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Thursday, 24 June 1926

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) . - It is quite impossible in the limited time at our disposal to grasp the full import of the proposed alteration of the Constitution. If it is agreed to, the Government will be clothed with very extensive powers, of the extent of which we have no knowledge. We cannot visualize the manner in which those powers will be exercised. Despite the condemnation of Senator Sampson, I assert that powers of a most extraordinary character will be conferred upon the Commonwealth if this proposal is assented to, and I am quite certain that the Government will have no hesitation in using them. For that reason, the people will decline to grant them. Being a fairly observant citizen, I have noticed that every publication in the Commonwealth is either hostile to the proposed granting of additional powers, or is doubtful as to whether they should be granted. I do not know of one newspaper or magazine which has given definite approval to the proposal. It is quite obvious, from the reports that are coming to hand daily, that there is not the remotest possibility of a majority of the States and a majority of the electors agreeing to either this or the other proposal. I am, therefore, somewhat surprised at the Government's persistence. Some timeago it was announced that it was proposed that we should begin at Canberra with a constitutional session, at which the various deficiencies in the Constitution would be calmly and deliberately reviewed. Apparently, the Government is not prepared to adopt that course in this case. Instead, it seeks to obtain from the people, in the course of a few weeks, certain additional powers, for the reason that it wishes to keep faith with the electors in connexion with the promise that it made regarding the deportation of Walsh and Johnson. I emphatically condemn the recrudescence of that evil spirit which was prevalent in Australia and Great Britain when possession was first taken of this continent. Upon the return to England of Captain Cook from one of his voyages, he reported that Australia was such a desolate place that it was of no value to Great Britain. I do not know whether he also made a secret report to the Imperial Government; but it is common knowledge that, shortly afterwards, Captain Phillip entered Sydney Heads, took possession of Australia on behalf of the British Government, and landed a considerable number of convicts on its shores.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Newlands). - Does the honorable senator intend to connect his remarks with the subject-matter of the bill ?

Senator GRANT - Yes. Men were deported from the Old Country to Australia in the early days for the most trivial offences, and I certainly object to the recrudescence in this age of a spirit that I thought was extinct. The BrucePage Government was unanimous last session in its determination to deport certain citizens of the Commonwealth; and since it failed in that effort it now seeks additional powers under the Constitution. The proposal is of such a farreaching character that it is almost impossible to realize the extent to which this Government, if granted the increased powers, might go. We ought to have ample time to consider the measure; we should not be expected to rush it through the. Chamber in a few days. Evidently the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has not the slightest hope of the people agreeing to his proposals. If they were considered calmly, at the constitutional session to be held at Canberra next year, and if it were possible to nave all sidesin Parliament united concerning them, there would be a chance of the people agreeing to their insertion in the Constitution; but I am sure that the electors will almost unanimously oppose them at the referendum. I shall vote against the measure on the second reading and at every other stage. It may be said that the Labour party is in favour of granting unlimited powers to the Commonwealth. That is true; but the bill does not provide for that. It merely seeks power in the direction indicated. Speaking on the subject of the general strike in Great Britain, Senator Sampson referred to the opinion of one person as if it carried great weight. Let me remind honorable senators that the miners of Great Britain, almost from time immemorial, have worked under the most inhuman conditions, and every attempt made by them to improve their lot has been strongly opposed by the ruling classes. Until recently, even women and children were employed in the British coal mines. I am surprised that Senator Sampson should oppose the improvement of the conditions of the coal miners, whose efforts in that direction are not of a revolutionary character. The notion that unionists who demand better industrial conditions are necessarily controlled from Moscow and desire to see a Soviet form of government introduced is nonsensical. The industrialists have no more idea than I have of upsetting the existing form of government in Great Britain. All they desire is shorter hours and better wages; and I have often wondered why they have been so moderate in their demands. The referendum will cost the country about £100,000, and it will be a sheer waste of public money, because all the evidence points to the fact that the people of Australia are not prepared to trust the Bruce-Page Government with additional powers.

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