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Monday, 21 March 1927

Senator CARROLL (Western Australia) . - In his endeavour to show why it was dangerous to give the States so much money Senator McLachlan read a list of socialistic enterprises into which he said the various State had entered with the result that they had lost quite a lot of money. Among other enterprises he mentioned the Wyndham Meat Works of Western Australia, which he said had lost something in the neighbourhood of £500,000. But these meat works cannot be classed by any fair-minded man as a socialistic enterprise in the ordinary sense, because they were established by the Government of the day as an honest effort to provide means to find a market for the stock of small squatters in the Kimberly district. There were quite a number of small cattle-raisers in East Kimberly who declared that they found it impossible to market their stock. The larger growers had a habit of procuring all the bookings on the limited shipping service available, and the small men were thus compelled to sacrifice their cattle on the spot, or let them roam at large on their runs. These meat works were established to meet that position. Unfortunately they have been run at a loss, but they have been of great assistance to men who could not be assisted in any other way. Therefore, Senator McLachlan can hardly class them as one of the socialistic schemes indulged in by State Governments. I want to do Senator Pearce the justice of saying that I also was at that meeting in Perth, to which he has referred, and that the statement he has read to-night is an absolutely correct report of what was said by him on that occasion. One member of the royal commission seemed to have come from the eastern State with the settled idea that the State had too much territory, and could not handle it all. He lost no opportunity during the inquiry to find out what the various witnesses thought about the wisdom of giving portion of the territory into the hands of the Commonwealth. Candidly the experience Australia has had of the administration of the Northern Territory is a very big factor in inducing the people of Western Australia to think that it would not be altogether wise to hand over any portion of their territory to the Commonwealth. We are certainly looking for an improvement in the ad ministration of the Northern Territory, but so far results have not been very encouraging.

Senator Abbott - They think it would be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire.

Senator CARROLL - Yes; that is the view the people of Western Australia take. There is a great difference between the north-west of Western Australia and the northern part of South Australia, now known as the Northern Territory. Darwin and the Northern Territory generally, might just as well have been in New Zealand, so far as the people of Adelaide and the southern part of South Australia were concerned. In Western Australia we have a continuous and unbroken coast line from the southern portion of the State to the north-west. We have not one thousand or two thousand miles of very difficult country to traverse, as is said to be the case between Adelaide and Darwin. Consequently I do not think there is the same necessity to urge a division of Western Australia as there was for the division of South Australia. To that extent, therefore, I do not agree with the finding of the royal commission. In any case I think the matter should be referred to people in that part of Western Australia, who after all is said and done, have to abide by what is decided. They should be consulted as to what their future should be.

Senator Abbott - The honorable senator wants a referendum of the people in the area as is provided for in the Constitution in regard to a new State.

Senator CARROLL - Exactly.

Senator Thompson - The honorable senator would have no objection to a subdivision if the people in the area desired it.

Senator CARROLL - No. I would be the last in the world to put anything in the way of their securing what they desired in that regard. The position is just like a State alienating its freehold. It does not part with the land; neither would the State, in a sense, be parting with the northern portion of its territory. But that does not effect the point that it is a matter that should be referred to the people in that particular area, and for that reason T support the amendment.

Senator NEEDHAM(Western Austra the Western Australian Disabilities did not mention anything about the desire or the offer of the Commonwealth Government to take over any part of the State. Senator Pearce has tried to cloud the issue by referring to something that eventuated in the minds of the Government afterwards, and for the sake of clarity I shall read the following from the report of the commission : -

That until the State of Western Australia is granted the right to impose its own Customs and excise tariffs, the Commonwealth shall pay to the State a special payment of £450,000' per annum in addition to the 25s. per capita payment made in accordance with clause 4 of the Surplus Revenue Act of 1910, the aforesaid special payment to include the special annual payment now being made to the State of Western Australia in accordance with clause 5 of the said act. The above special payment of £450,000 to commence on the 1st July, 1924.

There is nothing in the majority report of the commission concerning the taking over by the Commonwealth of a portion of the north-west of Western Australia or to the financial grant to Western Australia being decreased by £150,000 on that account, as mentioned by the Minister.

Senator Pearce - I did not say that the majority report of the Western Australia Disabilities Commission recommended the taking over of portion of the north-west of Western Australia.

Senator NEEDHAM - That was the inference to be drawn from the Minister's statement, which was made with the intention of defeating my amendment. The Minister stated that an offer had been made to the State Government to take over the north-west portion of Western Australia, representing a liability, which, with the Commonwealth's grant, would be equivalent to £450,000 per annum.

Senator Pearce - I did not say that the majority report recommended that. It was mentioned by Mr. Simpson.

Senator NEEDHAM - The Minister was speaking of something which the commission did not recommend.

Senator Pearce - The chairman of the commission did.

Senator NEEDHAM - I have quoted the majority report.

Senator Pearce - I have not tried to misrepresent the position.

Senator NEEDHAM -The. minority report recommended -

That a special grant of £300,000 per annum be paid bv the Commonwealth to the State for a period of ten years, commencing on 1st July, 1924, the question of further assistance to be reviewed towards the end of that period. This recommendation is made on the assumption that the present capitation allowance of 25s. per head of population will continue for the same period of ten years, and on the further assumption that if the special' grant of £300,000, as recommended, be made, the present diminishing special grant shall cease.

I have quoted the majority and the minority reports to show that such a proposal was not in the minds of the commissioners. When the Minister delivered his speech in the Queen's Hall, Perth, no conditions were imposed as to how the State Government should spend the money. The commission inquired into the whole subject, but did not recommend the manner in which the money should be spent. The Minister did not at that time condemn the manner in which money was being spent on State enterprises in Western Australia, and, as mentioned by Senator Carroll, it cannot be said it is being wasted on the meatworks at Wyndham, or that that enterprise has been a failure. If it has been, why have previous governments not taken steps to discontinue it? The Treasurer definitely stated that the £450,000 would be paid after making allowance for the diminishing grant. If the committee agree to my requested amendment, Western Australia will still receive the grant, minus the diminishing amount. The Minister now says that the money should be spent in a certain way, and that it is not usual for a government always to accept the advice of a royal commission. If that is so, what is the use of appointing royal commissions ? This commisson, which was appointed by the Government, conducted an exhaustve inquiry, and valuable independent evidence was tendered. Majority and minority reports were made. For electioneering purposes, Senator Pearce, speaking in Perth in 1925, quoted the majority report. The Minister did not forget to mention the applause with which his remarks, according to the newspaper report quoted by him, were received.

Senator Reid - Showing that the people endorsed what he said.

Senator NEEDHAM - The people were not conversant with the subject. The Minister made it clear that for one year Western Australia would receive £450,000, and also that a conference of State Treasurers would be held. That conference has not yet been convened.

Senator Pearce - Yes, it has.

Senator NEEDHAM - What did it decide ?

Senator Pearce - That the States would adhere to " moral right."

Senator NEEDHAM - The conference to which the Minister referred has not been convened. The gathering to which the Minister is now alluding was one at which the general financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States were to be considered. The inference to bo drawn from the Minister's speech was that the State Treasurers would meet to determine whether the" payment to Western Australia should be continued. The people of Western. Australia expected that to be done. It is not to be said that, because the Western Australian State Treasurer will possibly have this year a surplus of £45,000 or £50,000, the State does not need the financial assistance to which the coin.]1118810 U said it was entitled. I am relying upon the report of the commission which I have quoted, and expect the Government to honour its promise. Although it is proposed to abolish the per capita payment, Western Australia should receive a grant for a period of years, minus the diminishing amount.

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