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Thursday, 8 July 1915

Senator STEWART - Why not define it now ?

Senator de LARGIE - It is defined.

Senator Keating - It is not.

Senator SENIOR - I observe that Senator Bakhap says he is against these proposals, in the first instance, because they do not go far enough. I think Senator Keating is also opposed to them for the same reason; and, all the way through, the argument against them has been,' by inference, that they do not go far enough.

Senator Bakhap - Because they do not touch a truly un-Federal position.

Senator SENIOR - It is imposed upon those who take exception to the proposals to say where the Bills can be improved. They should be discussed on the floor of the Senate, and honorable senators who are objecting should point out 'wherein lies the remedy. But there has been no suggestion of that kind from my honorable friends. There has simply been a "stone-walling" objection to the passage of the measures. Because they do not include all, therefore, in their opinion, the National Parliament should not have some of the powers which they affect; because they do not go as far as some honorable senators think possible, we shall have no benefit in any direction.

Senator de Largie - And if they embraced the whole powers, the objection would be that the Bills went too far.

Senator SENIOR - Yes; they would

Bay that the Labour party should then go in for Unification.

Senator Shannon - That is what is behind the whole of them.

Senator SENIOR - I do not think it is. I confess to be a Federalist, and not a Unificationist for I recognise the difficulties there are in the way. As Senator Bakhap has shown, in the early history of the Colonies, and with populations spreading, the objective was decentralization; but, since then, there has come a swing of the pendulum. Our progress is not always in a direct line, but it is often made by taking an entirely opposite course to that which was considered advisable previously. At one stage in our history the movement was towards decentralization, but now there is a tendency, and I think rightly so, in the direction of giving greater power to the National Government, which we realize has not been clothed with sufficient authority to perform its functions properly. Our friends' attitude is this - I am crystallizing their objections into my own language - ' ' We object," they say, " to these proposals being put to the people because they will give the people greater powers." But it has not been shown that these powers are not desirable. When the Minister made his second-reading speech he quoted, with some force, I think, the opinions of opponents to these measures, and showed clearly that in their minds there was a firm conviction that increased powers should be taken by the Federal Parliament to meet the circumstances which have arisen since Federation. Yet, strangely enough, we find our opponents declaring that these powers should not be given to the Federal Parliament, which, according to them, must not be permitted to carve out its own destiny and mould for itself a system of government which would be best suited to the circumstances: that it must remain forever " cribb'd cabin'd, confin'd," according to a Constitution that followed a bad precedent. The Minister did not stress the point that these were war measures. He said that while Ave recognised they were necessary in times of peace, they are tenfold more necessary to-day.

Senator Shannon - You cannot get them through in time to be of use as Avar measures.

Senator SENIOR - What Ave can do in a very short time with the help of our friends remains to be seen.

Senator Shannon - What power will they give you as Avar measures now ?

Senator SENIOR - I hope the honorable senator will not take it from me that the Minister connected these powers of control with the Avar in any way. He said that whilst these powers were necessary in times of peace, it would have been much more to the advantage of Australia if the National Parliament had had them in this time of war.

Senator Shannon - He is only confusing the drought with the war.

Senator SENIOR - I think my honorable friend has had a complete answer to that contention, just as he has had a complete answer on the question of the Beef Trust.

Senator Shannon - What about the Mutton Trust, the Pig Trust, and the Poultry Trust? Where are all these trusts.

Senator SENIOR - My honorable friend knows full well that they are in existence in Australia to-day.

Senator Shannon - No, I do not.

Senator SENIOR - He knows they are in existence, and that these Bills will give the Commonwealth Government power over them. Senator Bakhap also said that if Australia is to progress the waste places of this country had to be filled up, and I would reply by asking what is the purpose of these measures, and what is the purpose of the Tariff that we had under review, if not to increase and improve Australia as a manufacturing nation as well , as a primary producing country ? The purpose is not simply to fill in the waste places with: farmers; we want mechanics as well. We find, to-day, that it is absolutely necessary that we should have skilled mechanics in Australia. God only knows it may be more necessary in the future than at present; that we may have to stand very much more firmly and bear a much heavier burden than we do to-day. I say that if Australia is in any sense to be protective of her interests and rights, these waste places must be filled - not only the waste spaces the farmer can occupy, but also the waste spaces the mechanic can occupy. It seems strange that it should be contended that these proposals are to benefit the secondary producers only, when they would very largely benefit the primary producers.

Senator Shannon - Is the honorable senator prepared to keep prices of commodities always low?

Senator SENIOR - I have not dealt with the question of fixing prices. But there is a wide difference between taking the occasion of the nation's need as an opportunity to raise prices unnecessarily and the occasion when we have a surplus of produce for which there is no demand outside. If we increase our population we shall also increase the consumption of primary products, and thereby we shall have a local market to consume that produce which the honorable senator has in mind.

Senator Bakhap - What would the honorable senator give the farmer for his wheat when there is no crop?

Senator SENIOR - I do not know that I am expected to answer that question offhand. In such circumstances it would be wise if the Government saw that the farmer was provided with seed wheat, and it might be found necessary to adopt measures similar to those recently applied in South Australia. A great deal of Senator Bakhap's argument was directed against the fixing of prices. Who fixes the price of the farmers' produce? Very often it is the wheat buyer who does so.

Senator Bakhap - The farmer need not sell his wheat if he does not choose to do so, yet the honorable senator proposes to compel him to sell.

Senator SENIOR - In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the farmer is compelled to sell. The honorable senator would have great difficulty in finding one farmer who, by the cultivation of produce, has accumulated as much wealth as one gentleman, lately passed away, who farmed the farmer. The man who farms the farmer secures a better yield than the farmer himself.

Senator Bakhap - Miners stack their ore and sell it when the price suits them. Does the honorable senator not think that the farmer does the same?

Senator SENIOR - On one occasion I went to the little place from which my honorable friend comes, and I met several primary producers there who told me that they had to sell their raspberry crops almost before the raspberries bloomed, and j had to get advances from the men who bought their crops. They could not hold their crops. The same thing applies very largely to wheat. The producer does not fix the price. A non-producer fixes it in many cases. Senator Bakhap, who takes exception to any one but the producer fixing the price of his produce, is really, battling for a condition of affairs that will enable the man who ia not a producer ** to fix the price of produce.

Senator Shannon - These amendments will not fix the price of produce. If they would fix a standard price for commodities all the year round I would vote with both hands for them, but the object of the honorable senator is to fix prices too> low.

Senator SENIOR - Can the honorable senator point to more than isolated cases where the producer as a whole benefited by the recent enhanced prices?

Senator Shannon - The man who had anything to sell benefited.

Senator SENIOR - The trouble was that there were very few who had anything to sell. Therefore, the .producer was not the fixer of prices.

Senator Guy - In New South Wales four-fifths of the farmers sold their wheat for less than 3s. 6d. a bushel.

Senator SENIOR - The same thing obtained in South Australia. Senator Shannon, as a wheat agent, ought to know who fixes the price of wheat.

Senator Shannon - In South Australia we do not try to fix the price of wheat; we try to get the farmer to ship his wheat to the world's market. Every farmer in South Australia can ship his wheat at a cost of Id. per bushel.

Senator Ready - Was the Royal Commission in South Australia wrong?

Senator SENIOR - The Royal Commission in South Australia was very emphatic on the point that there was a difference of 2d. and 3d. per bushel be- tween Adelaide and Sydney, or ' Melbourne, and that was because of what was called by Mr. John Darling an " honorable understanding."

Senator Shannon - If the Royal Commission did not bring out the fact in evidence that farmers in South Australia could ship wheat through ,the Farmers Union at Id. per bushel they did not bring out all the facts.

Senator SENIOR - I am merely stating what is clearly set out in records in the Parliamentary Library.

Senator Shannon - I am telling the honorable senator of what obtains in South Australia.

Senator SENIOR - I have seen repeatedly in the Journal of Agriculture of South Australia that, on any given day, there was a difference of 2d. to 3d. per bushel in the price of wheat in Adelaide and Sydney or Melbourne.

Senator GUY (TASMANIA) - I suppose that the report of the RoYal Commission was founded on evidence given on oath?

Senator SENIOR - The report was founded on the evidence of the individual concerned in the particular transactions, but I do not know whether it was givenon oath.- It was certainly given very reluctantly, but it was given, and when questioned as to whether there was a ring in Adelaide, Mr. Darling denied the existence of a ring, but said there was an "honorable understanding." The .price of one buyer was the same as that of the buyer next door. There was no competition; that was absolutely destroyed by the "honorable understand- ' ing," and the price of wheat was not fixed by the producer as my friends argue should be the case. Senator Bakhap claims that one object of these Bills will be to sterilize national industry and initiative. The argument is that, unless the individual can do as he chooses, national industry will be sterilized. In most industries the individuals directing them are feed managers, with very little interest in the concerns beyond the salaries they draw, and having under' their, control individuals who are similarly situated. To say that the same condition of affairs will not obtain under the National Government is to disbelieve what is before our eyes continually. A mine manager is in a very remote degree connected with the success of a mine, so far as the prices that are realized are concerned. He is under the authority of directors, who, in many cases, have never been down a mine, and know little about mining. To Bay that the same system cannot be imparted into the national arena is to state what is not true. Senator Shannon knows the conditions at the Islington workshops, which produce far better engines, considering their life, than are produced by private enterprise.

Senator Shannon - I understand that, the South Australian Government have let a contract for engines to private contractors.

Senator SENIOR - The reason why a contract for £30,000 went out to a private firm overseas was that the Islington workshops were working full time. There are many other cases that could be cited in which the same thing obtains. I have no doubt that, if inquiries were made into Government enterprises in connexion with the Commonwealth Government, we should find that the same thing obtains. The argument that it will be unsafe to give these national powers to a National Government because they are likely to be misused is an argument that cannot be substantiated by experience. The greater the responsibility placed upon the people the better the use they make of that responsibility. I have not heard one really' sound argument to-night as to why these additional powers should not be granted. It may be suggested that this is a "time of war, and that, therefore, attention should be concentrated upon the war and upon nothing else. But is that -argument advanced outside to the merchant carrying on his business ? Is it advanced in regard to anything beyond national questions? Why should the affairs of the nation stand still and ordinary mercantile matters be permitted to go on? I am not suggesting that mercantile affairs should stop, but honorable senators who argue that nothing beyond the immediate necessities of Parliament should be underaken at the present juncture should also argue tothe merchant that he must cease his business because the war cloud is over him. All through the present controversy it has been urged that the time is inopportune.

Senator Shannon - Is it a good time to raise these controversial questions when we are at war?

Senator SENIOR - I put it to the honorable senator that these questions were raised at a time when there' was no war. He then said the time was inopportune.

Senator Bakhap - But you were not able to carry them.

Senator SENIOR - We were not able to carry them then, but because honorable senators think we shall be able to carry them to-day they raise the objection that the time is inopportune.

Senator Shannon - You never heard rae raise any objection to the will of the people.

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