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Monday, 21 March 1927

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I trust the committee will reject this clause, which contains the vital principle of the bill. Although a majority of honorable senators have supported the second reading of the measure, we should not refrain from directing attention to its objectionable features. It has been said that if this clause is passed one State in particular will suffer, but I believe it will be detrimental to all the States. The clause reads -

Sections four, five, six and seven of the Surplus Revenue Act 1910 are repealed as from the thirtieth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and twenty-seven.

Section 4 of the Surplus Revenue Act, which is to be repealed, deals specifically with the payment of 25s. per capita to the States, which this clause provides, shall cease as from the 30th June of this year. It is interesting to note that the Minister (Senator Pearce), who in 1910 made a definite statement to the people of Western Australia that he favoured the continuation of the per capita payments for 25 years from 1910, is now assisting in their abolition. A contract between the Commonwealth and the States is being broken, or if it is not, a. distinct departure is being made from the spirit of federation. I do not think it was ever intended that a system such as this should ever be introduced. Even if the States have no legal or moral right to these payments, the Government should postpone consideration of the measure until June of this year, and in the meantime hold a conference of Commonwealth and State Treasurers. I cannot see the justice of determining this matter now. Despite all that has been said, and the quotations read by the Minister from the minutes of the conference recently held, at which the Commonwealth submitted proposals similar to those which we are now discussing, the State Premiers have not had an opportunity to submit a modified scheme. The Commonwealth proposal was of such a nature . that State representatives were appalled, and since then have not had an opportunity to submit an alternative proposal. The per capita payment is to be abolished. That having been done, the States will bc compelled to confer with the Common wealth. A conference held under compulsion is not likely to be so productive of good results as one in which the parties come together voluntarily. Instead of acting as it has done, the Commonwealth should have told the States that, while it intended to introduce legislation to abolish the per capita payments, a conference should first be held to discuss the whole question. ' At one stage, the Government proposed to appoint a royal commission to inquire into the disabilities of the States, but in view of the opposition of the States it abandoned that idea. But it decided to proceed with this bill. The Government's actions are not calculated to promote good feeling between the Commonwealth and the States. At the conference which it is proposed shall take place the Commonwealth will be able to say to the States, " Take what is offered, or leave it." The States will have to be satisfied with the crumbs which fall from the table of the Commonwealth. For the future welfare of the Commonwealth and the States there should be harmony between their representatives, but the actions of the Government are calculated to cause friction, which will react against the best interests of both. I hope, therefore, that the committee will reject the clause, thus opening the way for a conference between the two authorities before the per capita payments are abolished.

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