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Thursday, 13 October 1921

Senator SENIOR - One looks back to the time prior to Federation with feelings of pride at the magnificent choice which Australia made in the delegates for the Convention who framed the Commonwealth Constitution. It would be difficult, to-day, to gather together, such a group of men, far-seeing in vision and wise in judgment, such as assembled at those historic gatherings, and I submit it would be a grave mistake now to cast the Constitution which they gave to us into the melting pot.

Senator Gardiner - Nonsense! They knew that they were only laying the foundations, and that the future needs would be decided by the people of the Commonwealth.

Senator SENIOR - They builded better than they knew. If we keep in view the psychological circumstances of the time, we shall, I think, agree that they differed widely from existing conditions, and that it would be unwise to interfere, at this juncture, with the superstructure reared upon the foundations that were laid by those statesmen over twenty years ago.

Senator Crawford - And we have done good work under the present Constitution.

Senator SENIOR - Magnificent work has been done. Both parties have paid a tribute to the value of the legislation that has been passed by the Commonwealth Parliament during the past twenty years. We would be ill advised, therefore, to seek now to remodel the Constitution. Twenty years ago there was, I think, a sounder national outlook, and a more intense view of Australian conditions.

Senator de Largie - And a very narrow Australian point of view at that.

Senator Crawford - I do not think many will agree with Senator de Largie.

Senator SENIOR - Was it a narrow point of view to say that the Australian Parliament should be elected on the adult franchise, that is to say, on the votes of all persons who had attained their majority ? Was it" a narrow point of view that took in the humanities of Australia, as well as its commercial requirements? Not by any means. There was, I think, a larger conception of our individual and national responsibilities than to-day. We appear scarcely to realize that we are on the threshold of nationhood in regard to taking our place beside the other nations of the world. Our National Parliament should function in the truest sense of the word. All State jealousies should be absent from our deliberations.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable senator believe in Unification?

Senator SENIOR.Ibelieve, not in Unification, but in unity. There is an essential difference between the two things. We have just sent our delegate to the Washington Conference, which will deal with one of the most momentous subjects that the nations of the world have ever been called upon to consider.

Senator Bolton - The position will not be helped very much by the Conference, I am afraid.

Senator SENIOR - Let us not prophesy until we know. Sometimes small beginnings have important results. The forthcoming gathering at Washington only serves to emphasize what I have already said, namely, that the Commonwealth Parliament should function as an Australian Legislature, and not as representative of the various States.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But this was intended to be a States' House..

Senator Bolton - A National House.

Senator SENIOR - Now, two points of view have just been expressed concerning the constitution of this Chamber. I am sure Senator Pratten" will not acquiesce in the suggestion that in our deliberations in this Chamber each honorable senator should see nothing outside the interests of his own State. The Senate, as a matter of fact, should be a. National Chamber. The point of view I am stressing is touched, I think, by a paper that has just been laid upon the table of the Senate, dealing with the breakofgauge railway problem, the solution of which will mean a great deal to the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole. We must not forget that we have not yet done with war. I wish we had.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does my honorable friend assume that this Parliament is going to vote over £50,000,000 to unify the railway gauges?

Senator de Largie - Why not?

Senator SENIOR - In reply to Senator Pratten I may perhaps suggest that if in 1912 it was prophesied that in 1914 we should becommitting ourselves to an initial war expenditure which ultimately would be in the vicinity of £400,000,000, it is possible we might have hesitated and urged that there was no justification for such an outlay. Possibly we would have paused to assess the value of Australian liberty as against an expenditure of £400,000,000 and the loss of 60,000 representatives of our young manhood. But the history of the war has taught us that no sacrifice was too great for the preservation of our liberty. Therefore, I think this Parliament would be well advised to give very serious attention to the break-of-gauge problem at an early date.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Do you mean that we should unify the gauges?

Senator SENIOR - We should do away with the break of gauge as far as possible in all the main trunk lines.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would it not be better to build new main trunk lines on a uniform gauge?

Senator SENIOR - That may be a matter for consideration. The breakofgauge question is a national problem, and its solution is essential to the progress of the Commonwealth; because a uniform railway gauge in operation will help to bring the people of the Commonwealth closer together in just the same way that communication by wireless telegraphy and aerial navigation will draw the Dominions and the Motherland together. It will also be of incalculable benefit in time of war by making it possible to transfer troops speedily from one part of the Commonwealth to another.

Senator Gardiner - Does the honorable senator think that a more up-to-date wireless system and a speedier aeroplane service would help the passage of this Bill?

Senator SENIOR - I think I am justified in dealing briefly with matters of such great importance at this juncture, because they are subjects which are growing in importance, and require the closest possible attention. We should do all in our power to bring the people closer together, so that business may be conducted more expeditiously, which will naturally tend to assist development that is most essential. It is not simply a matter of improving communications between 5,500,000 people, because I am looking forward to the time when this continent will be populated by 500,000,000.

Senator Bolton - Why not start with 50,000,000 ?

Senator SENIOR - We have been a long while in reaching the 5,500,000 mark, but when honorable senators remember that' the whole of Europe and a large portion of Russia in Asia could be placed on the Australian continent, and still leave space, it is time to consider the vastness of the territory we are occupying.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think the honorable senator's geography is slightly wrong.

Senator SENIOR - Honorable senators will remember that some time ago a map was displayed in the Queen's Hall, from which it could be seen that if the whole of Europe were placed on the Australian continent it would cover only the fringe.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Russia was not included.

Senator SENIOR - If I remember aright, Russia in Asia was placed in the centre.

Senator Duncan - That is not so; it did not include the whole of Europe.

Senator SENIOR - The people who produced that map realized the possibilities of Australia perhaps more keenly than we do to-day. It is only when we consider such matters that we can hope1 to move forward as a nation.

Senator Foster - There appears to be differences of opinion concerning the national view- point, as an honorable senator from New South Wales was referring to Canberra from, what he considered a national view-point, and we did not agree with him-.

Senator SENIOR - So soon as we touch upon that question we must recognise that our cities are built up with the support of the country, and if the country fails, the cities must also fail.

Senator Bolton - Why blame the cities ?

Senator SENIOR - If a city is to prosper, it must be in consequence of the development of the country, and not merely as a result of the passing of a motion. We must establish a Federal Capital that will be a success. We are proceeding with the initial stages of the work, and I have nothing to say against honouring the compact made.

Senator Cox - The honorable senator has never helped us.

Senator SENIOR - I have never been found opposing the proposition. I have always been in favour of the work proceeding steadily.

Senator Gardiner - Slower than at present ?

Senator SENIOR - No. I believe in construction being proceeded with at a mere rapid rate; but I am not in favour of plunging Australia into an unnecessary debt for the sake of establishing a Federal Capital. I would not retard the development by procrastination, amounting to repudiation. I desire to place those views on record, because some honorable senators from New South Wales think that I am opposed to the transfer of the Seat of Government. I recognise that when the six States came together there was a desire for reciprocity; and I am in favour of the compact being honoured without plunging us into unnecessary debt.

Senator Gardiner - The honorable senator recognises the debt, but would prefer that it should remain unpaid.

Senator SENIOR - No. There is some truth in what Senator Gardiner said last night, that the debt is long overdue, and the position which confronted us in 1912- was much better than it is to-day. I trust the measure before the Senate will have a speedy passage, because it is only a salaries Bill for the period it covers.

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