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Thursday, 15 July 1915


Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) . - Hitherto we have, I think, looked upon Senator Keating as a " big Australian"; but I am afraid that, after reading his speech delivered last night and to-day, a number of people will be inclined to regard him as a " little Australian." I am speaking politically, of course.


Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It was very disappointing.


Senator O'KEEFE - Senator Keating,and most of those who are opposing the amendments, take the ground mainly that in other portions of the British Empire where party government' obtains, parties have joined together in view of this terrible war. It is idle, however, to make comparisons with things that are unlike. It is absurd to compare the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia and its powers with the Imperial

Parliament, because the Imperial Parliament is not a Federation having larger functions of government vested in the central body, and a number of smaller Parliaments beneath it.


Senator Bakhap - It will not be long before it is confronted with that problem.


Senator O'KEEFE - It is not so today. If we compare Australia with New Zealand, we find again that the position is not the same, because New Zealand is not a Federation. The people in the Dominion are under one Central Government. Therefore, eliminating the New Zealand and the Imperial Parliament, we have left only three self-governing Dominions of the Empire between which comparisons can be made, and they are the Dominion of Canada, the Union of South Africa, and the Commonwealth of Australia. Senator Keating, in his long - and up to a certain point interesting - speech, frequently touched upon the respective powers allocated %o the Federation op Canada and the provincial Parliaments. But he entirely missed the main point - whether purposely or not I am not prepared to say. He forgot to mention that, while the power over trade and commerce is not vested in the Commonwealth of Australia, it is vested in the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada. The position is clearly denned in Federations and Unions in the British Empire, by Hugh Egerton, Professor of Colonial History at Oxford, WHO points out that, whereas in the Australian Constitution, trade and commerce is vested in the Commonwealth Parliament, " among the States and with other countries," in the Dominion of Canada, legislative authority over trade aud commerce is entirely vested in the Federal Parliament. Surely Senator Keating does not for a moment assert that the people of Australia have less genius for self-government than the people of Canada or South Africa? Will Senator Bakhap, or any of those who are so bitterly opposing this amendment of the Constitution, which will give the Commonwealth more complete power over trade and commerce, say for a moment that the people of Australia are not as well able, through their representatives, to govern themselves as the people of Canada, and that they have less genius for self-government?


Senator Bakhap - The genius of different communities for self-government, even if they are derived from the same race, differs considerably.


Senator O'KEEFE - Then does Senator Bakhap say that we in Australia are not as well able to govern ourselves as the people of Canada or South Africa?


Senator Bakhap - In our case, each of the States was more independent.


Senator O'KEEFE - The keynote of the demand respecting Federal power touches this subject of trade and commerce. We cannot get away from it. This is the central fact: In Canada and South Africa, all the powers relating to trade and commerce are vested in the Federal Parliament, but in Australia the power of the Federal Parliament is almost nil. That is shown over and over again by the decisions of the High Court, and notably by the most recent decision.


Senator Bakhap - What about the great Federation of English-speaking people - the United States ?


Senator O'KEEFE - Our assertion is that we made a huge mistake in basing our Constitution on that of the United States ; and that is why we want to alter it aud bring it more in line with the Constitutions of more-recently formed Federations. It may be taken for granted that the people of South Africa had in mind the difficulties of government in the United States of America when they adopted their Constitution.


Senator Guy - And they had the experience of Australia, too.


Senator O'KEEFE - Yes. It may be assumed that the people of South Africa, when they adopted their Constitution, were satisfied that it was the best kind of Federation for them. The power of the Union Parliament of South Africa is deliberately expressed thus in section 59 : - " Parliament shall have full power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of. the Union." That embraces everything. Section 51 of our Constitution provides that the Commonwealth Parliament shall have power "to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to " certain matters, and then follow all those limitations which, in the minds of the great majority of the people, have proved so disastrous. The South African Constitution creates powers for the Provincial Councils, which should correspond to our State Parliaments, but which there live, move, and have their being at the behest and will of the Union

Parliament. There is in South Africa no such division of powers as we have, and the powers of the Provincial Councils are very small, compared with those of our State Parliaments. By section 90 the Union Government practically has power to make Ordinances for the Provincial Councils, because when a proposed Ordinance has been passed by a Provincial Council, it must be presented to the Governor-General in Council for his assent. The Governor-General in Council has to declare within one month that he assents to the Ordinance, or withholds his assent, or reserves it for further consideration. The State Governments in South Africa are only glorified municipal councils, and the whole power to govern the people in the things that matter is vested in the Union Parliament. That is the -arrangement in the most recent Federation amongst the Englishspeaking people, which was formed in the light of the experience of the Canadian Federation for many years, and of the blunders which we had fallen into in our short experience. As Senator O'Loghlin aptly interjects, Mr. Deakin, who was then Prime Minister, and had played a large part in framing our Constitution, implored them not to make the same mistake as we had done, by limiting the Federal powers and extending the State powers, particularly in regard to trade and commerce. Senator Keating is afraid that if the Federal Parliament's power over trade and commerce is extended it will lend to a great deal of litigation, but we must trust the people to some extent. Nearly all the other provisions in section 51 of our Constitution are based on trade and commerce. In the other two Federations - the only two with which wc may reasonably compare our own - the trade and commerce power is not subject to the limitations and restrictions imposed by our Constitution. In Canada, just as in South Africa, although not to the same extent, the distribution of the powers between the Federal and Provincial Parliaments leaves the great powers with the Federation, and only such powers as are expressly set out in the written Constitution to the Provincial Parliaments. Section 2. gives the Canadian Parliament full power over the " regulation of trade and commerce." That covers everything, and is unrestricted. We should leave the regulation of trade and commerce in this country to the Federal Parliament, without those useless and expensive restrictions which now exist. As to concurrent powers leading possibly to litigation in the future, nobody can say. They may do so, but we know what has actually happened. A great deal of litigation has been caused through the powers being so mixed up to-day, and the difficulty of deciding where the Federal power ends and the State power begins. We have evidently made mistakes in several Acts we have passed, and ' it is a singular fact that amongst those who had a hand in framing those Acts were several who also had a hand in framing the Constitution, and yet did not know the actual powers inherent in it. A great deal of litigation lias been caused through the delineation of the respective powers being so vague, and the trade and commerce relations of the people are anything but what they ought to be. Senator Keating and and others have missed the main point, by failing, intentionally or unintentionally, to state that we are asking simply that the people shall have submitted to them the question of whether they will give the Federal Parliament the same powers as are possessed by the Federations of South Africa and Canada. Senator Keating is very much afraid of a congestion of business in the Federal Parliament if these extended powers are handed over to it. That is a situation which can be well met when it arises. We should not meet trouble half way, but we know that the people are crying out for these powers. Practically ha.lf the electors only a little over a year ago said they wanted to give them to the Federal Parliament. We are simply making the reasonable request that the people should again have the opportunity of saying whether they wish them to be given to the Federal Parliament or not. We do not read of any congestion caused by the extended powers in Canada or South Africa. Even if we get the powers asked for in these six Bills, we shall still fall far short of the functions vested in the South African and Canadian Parliaments. Even then, all those things not expressly stated in our Constitution will be left to the States, whereas in those other Federations everything not expressly left to the provincial bodies comes within the power of the Federal Government. Here the

States will still have plenty to do, and the Federation will not have too much to do. The cry of congestion is therefore absolutely futile.It is almost a childish cry to raise at this stage. Senator Millen yesterday, in urging that these Bills should be dropped on the ground that they were party measures, appealed to the sympathies and feelings of honorable senators and of the outside public by stating that the shadow of a great trouble was over us all. Let me remind him that there is also the substance of a great trouble over Australia. We should nob think only of the shadow, and forget the substance. The substance is that the people are fighting not only the enemy outside, but the enemy within the gates. The ghouls - I can call them nothing else - in our trading world, who are always waiting to take advantage of any crisis such as we are passing through now to enrich' themselves at the expense of the people, are operating amongst us, as must be well known to all those who are opposing these measures. To say that we cannot successfully prosecute our share of this war, and at the same time do something to protect the people within the Commonwealth, is simply to declare that we are children with no powers of initiative. Nothing can prevent Australia doing all that is necessary to take its part in the proper conduct of the war as it is doing to-day. The recruiting figures for Victoria for the last few days - and in the other States the recruiting campaign has not yet begun - are sufficient answer to Senators Millen, Bakhap, and others, who declare that we cannot properly assist in prosecuting the war and at the same time go on with self-government. It is absurd to say that we should stop doing anything to protect our own people. I admit that the position to-day is far more serious than it was when the war broke out. At that time the cry to stop party government was not heard from the other side. In looking through a number of papers, I discovered a significant little paragraph which amused me so much at the time it was published that I cut it out. It shows that the president of the Australian Women's National League, an organization which is a particular friend of Senator Bakhap, made this appeal to the people of Australia at the time of the outbreak of the war : -

I do not wish to minimize in any degree the paramount importance of the war, and its grave issues at stake. We bear in mind, also, that the political leaders on both sides have sunk all differences of opinion, in order to unite in a magnificent demonstration of expression of loyalty to our Throne and the Empire. The war will go on, and may God grant Britain the victory. But on 5th September the issue to be decided in Australia is of tremendous import to Australians. In. the face of the new and necessary call now made upon our time, money, and energy, let us not forget the urgent duty we owe to Australia, letus not diminish in the smallest way our efforts on her behalf. There is barely one short month between now and the elections, when the great question must be decided - if for the next three years Australia's Government is to be under Caucus and Trades Hall domination, or to be ruled by a Liberal and free Government, with equal opportunities for men and women of all classes and creeds.

That implies that men and women of all classes and creeds do' not get an equal opportunity under the regime of a Labour Government

Therefore, in the work that is so necessary in organizing and forming classes such as I have referred to above, let us not neglect for one moment the more onerous and less interesting, though all-important, work, of canvassing, speaking, and organizing in order to secure the return of Liberal Government.

That is only one of 10,000 paragraphs which might be quoted with a view to showing that the leaders of the Liberal party have never dropped the spirit of party.


Senator O'LOGHLIN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Colonel O'Loghlin. - It is like a lady's letter - its sting is in its tail.


Senator O'KEEFE - They are fighting just as bitterly, though perhaps not quite so publicly, as they did before. After all, there is no great harm in that. We may fight amongst ourselves whilst standing shoulder to shoulder against the outside foe. It is because we feel that we can do this without impairing our ability to energetically share in the prosecution of the war that we intend to submit these Bills to the electors. Every newspaper that we pick up tells usthat in every corner of Australia the prices of the necessaries of life have risen far beyond the point that was necessary to allow those engaged in handling them a reasonable profit. Senator Millen inquired whether our soldiers at the front had any time to think about internal questions of government in Australia ? In reply I say to him, " Ask the mothers and fathers of big families, who are hard put to it to adequately feed and clothe their children on account of the exceedingly high prices which they are called upon to pay for every necessary commodity, whether the depredations of the trusts controlling those commodities ought not to be curbed." It is because I believe that more than half the people of Australia are anxiously awaiting the re-submission of these proposals to them, in order that they may vest this Parliament with powers which it does not possess to-day, but which it ought to possess, that I wish to afford them an opportunity of making their will known. At this point I may perhaps be allowed to digress somewhat to answer the exceedingly unfair statements made by the Age last week when it charged the Government with hypocrisy and insincerity because they cannot immediately submit these questions to the people. That journal stated, in effect, " The Government affirm that the proposals are urgent," and with seeming innocence inquired, " In these circumstances, why are they not to be put at once?" The Age endeavoured to make the people believe that the Government are insincere because the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have stated that the questions involved in these measures are questions of urgency.


Senator Grant - The Age is of no importance whatever.


Senator O'KEEFE - I am only quoting it because it does the jump-Jim-Crow act so frequently.


Senator Grant - Why does not the honorable senator quote the Sydney Worker? That is the paper.


Senator O'KEEFE - Because if I did so I would merely be repeating my own arguments. Not long ago the Age stated that many of the proposed amendments of our Constitution were necessary.


Senator Russell - If we used the utmost expedition we could not get these Bills before the people in less than five months.


Senator O'KEEFE - I am coming to that aspect of the matter. The writer of the Age article, who, I presume, occasionally sits in the press gallery of this Parliament, knows perfectly well that no proposed amendment of the Constitution can be submitted to the electors until a period of at least two months has elapsed from the time the Bill in which it is embodied becomes law. The maximum period that may elapse is six months. In addition to being aware of the constitutional limitation, the Age writer must also have known that some time will necessarily be occupied in getting our electoral arrangements in order. It is a great pity that powerful journals like the Age, which do so much to mould public opinion, cannot play the game fairly.


Senator Guy - Is it not possible that the writer of the article had to write to order?


Senator O'KEEFE - If writing to order means writing that sort of stuff, I do not think that any reputable journalist ought to stoop to it. Upon the day on which one article appeared in that publication, quite a number of persons were led away by its deliberate suppression of the true position. This was clearly shown by questions that were put to me by electors who will vote "Yes" on the referenda, butwho would not have done so had they not been told the truth. These persons inquired, " If these Constitution Alteration Bills involve questions of urgency, why are they not to be submitted to the people until December? They could be put through the Senate in twenty-four hours, and might be submitted to the electors next week." In reply I pointed out that that was impossible under our Constitution. Thereupon they admitted that the Bills could not be placed before the electors earlier than December. I repeat that it is about time that our great public organs played the game. Merely because a certain political party is in power, they ought not to suppress essential facts with which the public should be made familiar. I can only suppose that those facts are suppressed for party purposes. However, I think the electors are being educated to recognise that we intend to submit these Bills as early as possible, in view of the constitutional limitation to which I have referred, and consistent with the perfecting of our electoral arrangements. I am satisfied that if they are not carried on the next occasion, we will, at any rate, go nearer to carrying them than we did on the last occasion, because I believe that the people are ripe for the proposed alterations.







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