Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 12 October 1921

Senator EARLE - I agree with the honorable senator. I believe that after having gone to the expense of an election for members of the Convention, the whole of it will be wasted unless we can secure, in regard to the recommendations of the Convention, the acquiescence of those menand women to whom the people look to advise them at election time, and that the vote, as in the case of all former referendums, will be in the negative. It is natural that people should hold conservative opinions on questions of this kind. If there is a difference of opinion amongst those who ought to know, and who are expected to guide the people, the decision will be to leave things as they are. Certain alterations should be made in the Constitution in order that the Government may function as directed by the people of the Commonwealth.

Senator Russell - It is not that we want so much greater power as more definite authority.

Senator EARLE - And such an alteration in the Constitution is very desirable.

Senator Russell - We want to be able to say whether this or that question is in the Federal or State sphere.

Senator EARLE - Quite so; but if there is any serious division among the leaders of public opinion in Australia, we shall never get an affirmative vote from the people for any amendment of the Constitution. We must have this unanimity prior to the submission of any question to the people. I am satisfied that by the selection of Convention representatives from all the Parliaments of Australia we shall secure the widest possible expression of public thought, because the whole of the Legislative Assemblies in the different States are elected on the adult franchise. Although in two of the States the Legislative Councils are nominated by Governments elected by the people, the Upper House franchise in the States is a property qualification. I do not approve of this system, but it certainly can be claimed that the representatives in our Legislative Councils speak for the most conservative section of the people. I am satisfied that a Convention selected in the way I have outlined would prove a satisfactory method for the expression of public thought as to the amendments of our Constitution, and I believe its recommendations would be accepted by the people. So convinced am I that it would be a sinful waste of money to hold a special election for members of the Convention, that I want to declare my opposition to it now. My proposition is worthy of consideration. If the Prime Minister thinks fit to throw it into the waste-paper basket, I feel forced to state my opposition to his views in regard to the election of the Convention. It may be suggested that the election could be held at the same time as the general election for members of both branches of the Commonwealth Parliament. That, again, would encounter my opposition.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator does not think that is suggested, does he ?

Senator EARLE - Then it may be all right. I do not want to put up any skittles merely to knock them down again. I thought this course might be suggested, and, therefore, I wished to express my opposition to it.

I am satisfied with the Budget brought down by the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook). I realize that in some respects considerable hardship must be imposed upon the people, and, as I said in the earlier part of my speech, "the people, having received the goods, must now be prepared to meet the bill. There are encouraging signs as to the attitude of the people towards their obligations. There may be occasional outbursts such as, no doubt, are occurring at the Workers' Conference in Brisbane, but I believe the great majority of the people desire to settle down to the inevitable task of rehabilitating and reestablishing Australia in a better position than she occupied before the war. I need hardly reiterate statements I have previously made to the workers in this respect. If there is any foundation - and perhaps in some cases there is - for their belief that they are not receiving their due proportion of the wealth which they produce, there is ample opportunity in Australia for the workers to become producers on their own account. I have pointed out on other occasions that between 1913 and 1918 the workers of this country lost, from industrial disputes, in wages alone, over £10,000,000. Therefore, I urge upon those who are. discontented with the present system the wisdom of co-operation in production. Let them become their own employers. The world is wide. No difficulty is presented. There is absolute freedom in Australia. If they want to abolish capitalism, co-operation affords a convenient medium. By this means they may accomplish their ends quietly and lawfully. Let them by cooperation become capitalists, - and pay themselves from the results of their own industry. This is the only practical and true test of sincerity of purpose. We learn from the Trades Hall representatives, and from those who are sitting in the Workers' Conference in Brisbane, that the workers are determined to destroy the present organization of capital and labour, to abolish wage payments, and, in short, to cast the whole social and industrial system into the melting-pot, and see what is going to result. I ask any of those who advocate this course of action what they are going to substitute for it. Not one can give the slightest indication. They are like a' number of people, cast adrift in a boat, who decide to scuttle it, and then see what will happen. They are making no provision for the future, notwithstanding that in Russia to-day they have an example of what must inevitably occur if they adopt this course of action in Australia. Russia, a country of immense wealth, and with an enormous population, is so disorganized that at the present time millions of people are face to face with starvation, and hundreds of thousands are dying. Notwithstanding all this, there are still some people who urge that the workers of this country should try the same experiment. My last words to them on the present occasion are to ignore any such advice. Like everybody else, they must bend their backs to the burden in order to carry Australia through the difficult times that lie ahead. The vast majority did this loyally during the war, and now that we are in the aftermath, everybody, whether he be the humblest worker in the land or a citizen in the highest position, must accept his individual responsibility, and make his contribution in payment of the bill we have received in return for a free country with all the possibilities of becoming a very great nation.

Suggest corrections