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Friday, 18 March 1927

Senator BARNES (Victoria) . - My remarks in relation to this bill will be brief. Other honorable senators have already given the history of the per capita system, but one phase of this question has not yet been dealt with. To that phase I shall address my remarks, because I am somewhat concerned about it. The framers of the Constitution appear to have foreseen that the time would come when it would be necessary to safeguard certain interests in this country. With the inauguration of federation, the central government was given control of the country's tariffs. That was right, because the Constitution imposed on the central government the responsibility of making Australia as self-contained as possible. I am reminded that several centuries ago Great Britain imposed tariffs with the object of developing her industries, with the result that she became the manufacturing centre of the world. The Federal Parliament should be in the same position. The government of Australia today is vastly different from what it was in the early years of federation. In five States Labour governments are in office, and have introduced many measures of an entirely different character from those brought forward by other governments. For instance, the legislative programme of the Labour party includes unemployment insurance, child endowment, and other things which its supporters believe are in the best interests of the country. It is true that the Prime Minister's policy speech included a reference to the desirability of a child endowment scheme being brought into operation, but, so far as I can gather, that scheme is still in the clouds, lt is like other promises made at the last election. Legislation dealing with it has not yet come to light. If this bill is carried the Government will be able to force the States to accept an arrangement that might be most distasteful to them. Pitt laid it down that it was possible fiar a government, by means of Customs and excise duties, to tax the shirt off a man's back without his knowledge ; but immediately direct taxation was levied he made an outcry. The Commonwealth Government having control of Customs and excise duties can go to almost any length to encourage the development of Australian industries, under conditions that will enable every man and woman to earn a living in reasonable comfort, and such a policy, irrespective of the party in power, would have the approval of the people. But the Commonwealth has no right to compel the several State Governments to obtain revenue for their essential services from other sources. Honorable senators cannot escape from the situation. Unquestionably the people of Australia will have something to say about this proposal when the opportunity is given to them. There is a nigger in the wood-pile somewhere, and so far as I am concerned, I am not going to take any risk. I do not suggest that the representatives of certain States would accept a bribe as the price for their support of the bill : but it is singular that under this bill two States will receive special grants of between £300,000 and £400,000 a year, so that they need not concern themselves very much about its effect upon their State finances. What is the purpose of the bill, and why has it been presented 1 Under the Constitution the Commonwealth Government is authorized to grant assistance to States that may be in need of it, but if this scheme is approved by Parliament, the States will be deprived of their per capita grants, but two will receive substantial assistance. Altogether the bill has a very sinister aspect to me. It looks as if the Government is endeavouring to "bag " the twelve Senate votes represented by the two States that are to receive such favorable treatment.

Senator Ogden - It has not succeeded in its purpose, then.

Senator BARNES - I understand that there is some opposition to the bill even from those States, so I hope that, when the vote is taken, the second reading of the bill will be defeated. The Government will then be obliged to bring forward another scheme which will not have the effect of endangering the legislative programmes of some of the State Governments. As we know, in certain of the States the Labour administrations are legislating for shorter hours of labour, unemployment insurance, childhood endowment, and similar proposals affecting so closely the well-being of their people. It appears that the Government realized that the presentation of this bill wa3 about the only chance it had to defeat the aspirations of certain State Governments, and it is now endeavouring to persuade this branch of the legislature to support its policy.

Senator Reid - It is the duty of the Commonwealth to legislate for childhood endowment and national insurance.

Senator BARNES - It is true that, in his policy speech, the Prime Minister indicated that the Government intended to introduce legislation to provide for childhood endowment and a number of other things; but this Government has been in office for nearly three years and nothing has yet been done in that direction. I am afraid that the Government's childhood endowment scheme is as the morning mist that disappears with the rising sun. Like other items of policy, it may be a good election placard ; but I remind the Government that the people do not live on election promises. They expect their representatives to honour their pledges. I look upon this bill with grave suspicion, because its special provisions suggest that the Government hopes, by means of them, to secure the support of twelve senators from two of the States. Possibly Ministers considered this when making their book, and thought it was a pretty safe bet. The passage of the bill will mean that there will be little chance of State Labour administrations carrying out their unemployment insurance, childhood endowment, or other social legislation for the benefit of the people, because they will be obliged to raise the necessary revenues by direct taxation. That is the story behind this bill. Therefore I urge representatives of Tasmania and Western Australia not to be taken by this bait ; to remember that they are Australians, and that no State should enjoy privileges which are not available to other States. I cannot imagine how the Government expected to carry the bill through this Chamber. When it was going through another place the prospect was more favorable, but the position in the Senate is altogether different. Members of another place represent constituencies; whereas members of the Senate represent the States, which are vitally concerned in this proposal, because it will cripple their finances and force them back into the position from which they have been endeavouring to escape. It is the duty of the Senate to guard the States from that. I listened to the eloquent speeches made by many honorable senators, and I have given careful consideration to the arguments put forward in favour of the bill; but still I am convinced that there is a " nigger in the wood-pile." I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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