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Wednesday, 14 July 1915

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I had thought that the debate would end earlier, and intended to make my remarks very brief, but the longer the debate goes on, and the more speakers we have, the greater seems to be the duty that falls upon those who follow. I shall not go again over the ground covered by Senator Millen, who referred to the political impropriety of dealing with this matter at the present juncture. I indorse what he said on that subject, and leave it at that. But I do not care that these Bills should pass through Parliament and go to the electors without some analysis of their provisions, however brief, to indicate the reasons why I think they should not be submitted to . the people to vote "Yes" or "No" upon.

Senator Guthrie - At any time?

Senator KEATING - - At any time. I believe, as I have said here, and in my own and other States, both on the platform and through the press, that the Constitution needs amendment, but the procedure we are following to effect necessary amendments of the Constitution is not the best. So far from being the best, it is even undesirable. I wish to deal with these amendments to-night as free as possible from anything that may savour of party spirit. I have upon the parer a motion the discussion upon which I may not anticipate. One of the worst ways to approach the important task of amending the provisions of the Constitution is the one now being adopted. I say that apart altogether from the question of what party is in power. It is not very long since the people had submitted to them practically these proposals, but these are not actually what were submitted to the people two years ago.

Senator Lynch - There is very little difference.

Senator KEATING - There is a very substantial difference in the first and the sixth, and the fact that there is a substan- tial difference in each of those emphasizes my point that the procedure we follow for the amendment of the Constitution is far from being the best.

Senator de LARGIE - We are prepared to consider amendments.

Senator KEATING - That is what I consider the worst feature of this proceeding.

The first amendment deal with the most important provision in the whole Constitution. It touches the trade and commerce power, which is the root principle of all our legislative power. As it appears in the Constitution at present, we have power to make laws for trade and commerce among the States and with outside countries. We are now asked to amend the Constitution to provide that this Parliament shall have power to make laws ' ' with respect to trade and commerce." We propose to omit the words ' ' with other countries and among the States." The trade and commerce power is the keystone of the arch of our legislative power.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - Quote Sir William Irvine upon it.

Senator KEATING - I shall quote myself upon it. If the honorable senator wants to hear Sir William Irvine, he may go and do so. I am not asking him to stay here. The amendment we 'were asked to consider, in 1913 was not this amendment. We were asked then to amend the Constitution by striking out the words " with other countries and among the States," and insert " but not including trade and commerce upon railways the property of a State except so far as it is trade and commerce with other countries or among the States." We were asked in 1913 to strike out certain words and insert others cutting down the power. We are asked now to strike out certain words and leave the words " trade and commerce " standing. In the interval between 1913 and 1915 circumstances have evidently arisen which have warranted in the minds of those responsible for drafting the amendment a further alteration of their then proposal. Had we carried that amendment in 1913, we should presumably be now asked again to amend the Constitution by striking out the limitation on our powers with respect to trade and commerce carried on the railways.

Take now the monopoly amendment. When we were asked in 1913 to amend the Constitution by giving this Parliament the power to nationalize certain mono polies, we made provision enabling Parliament to declare - as a monopoly, and as a consequence of that declaration to nationalize it - any concern engaged in the industry or business of "producing, manufacturing, or supplying any specified service." I pointed out in Tasmania that the people were being urged to insert that amendment in the Constitution on the ground that in exercise of that power Parliament would be able to nationalize an industry, like the sugar industry, whereas Parliament would not have that power. I said the sugar industry was not an industry engaged in " producing, manufacturing, or supplying any specified service." It was engaged in the producing, manufacturing, or supplying of goods, but not of services. Services were what gas companies, railway companies, .electric lighting companies, transport and traffic companies, and corporations provided us with. I pointed out that the proposed power of nationalization would not cover a monopoly concerned with the manufacture, production, or sale of goods.

Senator Long - Do you think that is why it was not carried ?

Senator KEATING - I do not say so.

Senator Guthrie - How do you make the distinction ?

Senator KEATING - What is the meaning of "service"? We speak of s> tramway service, a steam-ship service, a lighting service, a water service, or a gas service. I was particularly pressed with, regard to this view by some of my hearers at a place called Bothwell, and I elaborated it. The matter was referred to in the papers, and made the subject of an article. The nationalization of monopolies proposal now put forward is the same, except that the words " supplying any specified goods, or supplying any specified services" appear.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - That is an improvement.

Senator KEATING - It is; but it goes to show that the amendment which the people were asked in 1913 to adopt was not complete.

Senator Guthrie - Does the present proposal meet your views ?

Senator KEATING - I do not say so : but the 1913 amendment evidently did1 not give effect to the views and wishes of those proposing it.

With each successive submission of these amendments to Parliament, there is a substantial alteration.

Senator Watson - All the better for the people.

Senator KEATING - If the people adopt them, we have no guarantee that, in twelve months' time, they will not need amending again.

Senator Guthrie - Why should they not be amended again if necessary ?

Senator KEATING - That question brings me back to what I began with - that the procedure we adopt to amend the Constitution is not only far from being the best, but is even undesirable. The whole of the energies and talents of the nation should be engaged in the amendment of the instrument which was the work of the nation.

Senator Pearce - Is that why the Opposition walked out in another place? " Senator KEATING. - I am not concerned with the other House, but one feature that preceded their walking out was that they were not allowed to discuss this matter as our President has allowed us to do.

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