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Tuesday, 22 June 1926

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) .- I would remind the committee that probably the most difficult task in which a legislature can be engaged is an amendment of the Constitution. The framing of such an amendment is not a task which should be attempted by a layman while standing on his feet addressing this chamber. It should be seriously considered, and any proposal for the purpose should be left to legal minds to decide what its exact effect would be. I am not a lawyer, and I have only just heard Senator Lynch's amendment read ; but it seems to me that its effect would be exactly the opposite of what the honorable senator desires. I invite the honorable senator's attention to the wording of paragraph xl. It reads : -

Establishing authorities with such powers as the Parliament confers on them, with respect to the regulation and determination of terms and conditions of industrial employment, and of rights and duties of employers and employees with respect to industrial matters and things.

The honorable senator proposes to add. to that paragraph the following words: - ' but the exercise of such powers shall not apply to the regulation of any State activity engaged in the manufacture of products which enter into competition with similar products in the ordinary course of trade.

If the paragraph were so amended it would mean that State activities, such as a State Public Service, or a State railway service would come under the powers proposed, but if a State established a fish shop or a butcher's shop, such activities could not be regulated under the powers proposed. Under the honorable senator's amendment, the regulation of such activities would not come under the " grasping powers " of which he speaks. I know that that is not what he intends, and that what he desires is that such activities as afish shop or a butcher's shop shall come within the Federal powers.

Senator Lynch - That is so.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator's amendment would have exactly the opposite effect, and I appeal to him not to press it. He is aware that the Government is asking the Parliament to take very grave action. I assume that all who are supporting the bill really desire that the people shall endorse these measures, and accept the proposals for constitutional alteration. Judging from the debate, it is not going to be an easy task to induce a majority of the people in a majority of the States to accept these proposals. No one who desires that they should be accepted can consider it desirable that they should include one of the most debatable matters that could be introduced, and that is the question of how far the Federal industrial authority should go in the regulation of State activities. I understand that the High Court has ruled that where a State is engaged in an industrial activity it may under the Constitution as it stands, and without the acceptance of these proposals, be brought under the authority of the Federal Arbitration Court.

Senator Needham - That is the law now.

Senator PEARCE - That is the law now, according to the High Court, and certain railway unions are to-day before the Federal Arbitration Court seeking an award. I appeal to Senator Lynch's sense of fair play, not to press his amendment. Does the honorable senator think it quite fair to the Government and to those who desire that these proposals for the amendment of the Constitution shall be accepted by the majority of the people of Australia, to throw in this apple of discord, and so place honorable senators in a false position,' no matter how they may vote? Many honorable senators who desire that the Government's proposals should be accepted by the people will vote against Senator Lynch's amendment, when, if it were submitted as a separate matter, they might be found supporting the honorable senator. I ask him not to force them to make such a choice. An amendment of so far-reaching a character needs careful examination by legal authorities to decide exactly the effect of the form in which it is proposed.

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