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Thursday, 13 October 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Senator Earle made some remarks yesterday respecting the proposed Constitution Convention with which I am in full accord. The honorable senator was quite right when he said that if members of this Chamber are opposed to the holding of the Convention next year, it would be well for them to say so, in order that the Government may be made acquainted with the temper of the Senate upon the matter. Some time ago the Government introduced in this Chamber a Bill for the purpose of conferring upon the Northern Territory a form of representation here. The Government could not have been satisfied with the treatment accorded to that measure. The only senators who voted directly in favour of the Bill were the three Ministers who occupy seats in this Chamber, the Government Whip, and I think, Senator Gardiner. With respect to the proposed Convention, the Government would be wisely advised to ascertainthe views of honorable senators at this stage in order that there should not be a repetition of their experience in connexion with the Bill to which I have just alluded. Like Senator Earle, I see no reason why a Constitution Convention should be held at present. It would be a complete waste of time. While SenatorCrawford was speaking I asked' if he could' tell me who had been asking for the Convention, but the honorable senator obviously knew no more than I -did. An interjection followed from one of the Ministers to the effect that there was quite a strong feeling in Victoria in favour of holding the Convention. So far as I know, only one meeting has been held in any part of Australia in support of the proposal. That gathering was convened by two ardent supporters of the Country party.

A meeting held in Melbourne was addressed by the Leader of that party (Dr. Earle Page), and by the honorable member for the Grampians (Mr. Jowett), who, I believe, is the financial member of the Country party. The meeting was advertised a good deal. I was not present, but I heard that there were about 120 people in attendance, and I was informed, by one who took part in calling the meeting, that out of that number 40 were professional organizers, who came with the idea that there would be a certain amount of work for them to do. That is about the only meeting I know of that "has been held in favour of a Convention. There are some who think that by holding a Convention there would be a possibility of dividing some of the larger States like Queensland, Western Australia, or New South Wales, and in that way creating new States. That is not a matter upon which I am called upon to express an opinion.

Senator Wilson - You are more concerned about the State of Canberra.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, at present. There may be a good deal to be said in favour of dividing some of the States, but to my mind there is no necessity for a Convention to do that. The most a Convention could possibly do would be to refer the question to the people for a vote. This Parliament, or a State Parliament, could refer it to the people without a Convention. I am opposed to the Federal Parliament,* as at present constituted, receiving any more powers - although perhaps on different grounds from those of Senator Crawford - except such powers as were originally supposed to be within the. ambit of this Parliament. Senators Gardiner, Senior, Earle and others, including myself, have advocated certain alterations of the Constitution, which were ito give to the Federal Parliament some added powers which we thought the Parliament had when Federation was brought about. Beyond .that, I would not add a single power to the Federal Parliament with the Senate constituted as at present. I am not prepared to hand over the railways, or the development of the land in New South

Wales to a Parliament where there are six Senate- representatives from a State with a population of 100,000, and only the same number of representatives from a State with 1,250,000 people.

Senator Senior - Look at the power they .have in another place.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That does not matter. <

Senator Wilson - Do you favour a Senate on a population basis ?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am hot a political candidate answering questions at a public meeting, but I may say that I am not in favour of the States being equally represented, and I -never was. I voted against the Federal Constitution twice in New South Wales on that account. Senator Earle said yesterday that rightly or wrongly - he thought wrongly - the people had decided to have the Federal Capital at Canberra, and as they had come to that decision he was in favour of keeping the compact. My opinion is that the people also wrongly decided on the constitution of the Senate; so we must put up with that too, and keep the compact honorably, but beyond that 1 am not prepared to go.

When the last Supply Bill was before us I raised the question of economy. The Minister had been good enough to state that the Government had practised economy, because in the last Budget £4,000,000 which had been provided had not been expended. I pointed out that it was possible to have saved the £4,000,000, because to that extent more money had been provided than could be spent. The Minister then told me that, whilst we had not any detailed account of the economy that had been effected, he would be in a position to give it when the Budget came on. I do not know whether there is any provision in the present Supply Bill for the proportional payment to the trade representative whom we have sent to China. In the completed Estimates there is an item of £2,000 for that representative, and, if there is an item in the schedule, I would be prepared to move that the Supply be reduced to that extent. I see no advantage in sending a representative to China to build up trade,, after we have spent six laborious weeks here in trying to prevent trade.

Senator Russell - Where?

Senator Gardiner - In stopping Chinese goods from coming into Australia.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I understand that the cry of Australia is that it wishes to be self-contained, and in that case it does not want anything from any other country. We are to give an officer £2,000 a year to go to China £o sell something on our behalf - or is he to give away something on our behalf 1 Here is an extract headed "Back from Germany," from one of the newspapers. -

Melbourne, Saturday. - Owing to the inability to obtain cargo at European ports, the Commonwealth Government steamer Australplain returned to Melbourne this week in ballast from Hamburg. The vessel, which left Portland on March 31, with 5,821 tons of wheat for Hamburg, is the second Australian steamer to return from Germany after having discharged wheat. The other vessel was the Government line steamer Australpeak, which also returned to Melbourne in ballast recently. The crew of the Australplain has been paid off.

What do we get back from Germany? I ask the Minister who represents the Minister for Trade and Customs whether we gave that wheat to the people at Hamburg. There were two shiploads sent, and the boats came back empty. .

Senator Wilson - You are making out a good case for the freights on wheat.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was not thinking about that. I was troubling about what was to become of the wheat. Are we giving it to the people in Germany? Sometimes I am bewildered, and do not know what to think. Parliament devotes a week or two to the passing of duties to keep goods out of Australia, and if a duty of 25 per cent, is not sufficient to keep them, out we raise the duty to 50 per cent.

Senator Russell - We had seven weeks of this. Why repeat it?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am coming back to tho Trade Commissioner for China. We are paying £2,000 a year, and it means the beginning" of a new Department, which will swell.

Senator Russell - You apply at the Customs House, and you will get a surprise concerning the work the representative is doing.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is he selling goods for us ?

Senator Russell - Yes.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister does not object to our stuff going into China.

Senator Russell - Call for a report.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What I wish to know is whether we are getting something back from China. I am very fond of China tea, and do not object to drinking it, even if it has been produced by Chinese labour; but tea can be grown in Australia. Messrs. Griffiths Brothers have grown some here, but because of Protectionists who prefer to drink China tea, the project was abandoned. We can grow rice and cotton in Australia, so why spend £2,000 a year on a trade representative in China?

Senator Foster - Is your argument that we should produce more than we can use?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am talking about what the Senate is doing and what the cry of Australia is. I am a great believer in trade with other countries. I do not see why the people of Australia should work for more than eight hours; but if. people in China wish to work sixteen hours for our benefit, let them do it.

Senator Wilson - Why not apply the same principle in Australia, as you apply outside ?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not ask men in China to work for more than eight hours, but, if they are prepared to do so, Why object? It seems absurd to pay a man £2,000 a year to sell goods for us when the desire of Australia is to be selfcontained, and produce for itself all that its people require.

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