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Wednesday, 28 March 1928

Senator VERRAN (South Australia) . - It is an obligation of the Senate to preserve the -fights of the States, and it has full control over all legislation that is introduced. This is a national, not a party matter. I have listened to and studied the mass of figures that has been quoted during the debate, and I must confess that, to a man with only a modest education, they are most confusing. Many men are able to juggle with figures, and give those that are false an appearance of truth. I have in my mind a man who juggled with figures not long ago. A bank manager informed me that in that respect he was the cleverest man he had met. In politics some men are just as clever at juggling with the welfare of the nation as with shillings and pence. It has been said that the States have agreed to this proposal. That may be so; but it is my opinion that the Premiers of the States were caught napping. They were not as intellectually alert as one would expect them to be. Even though this bill is passed, will it not be necessary for the agreement to be approved of by the people at a referendum?

Senator Sir George Pearce - The Constitution will have to be amended. Inferentially the rejection of that amendment by the people would mean the rejection of the agreement. The clauses that are to be submitted are contained in the agreement.

Senator VERRAN - I can see what is in the agreement, but I should like to know what lies behind it. Since the inception of federation the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States have constituted one of the most difficult problems with which we have had to deal. An honorable senator has asked whether this agreement means unification. It is -true that one section comprising the Government advocates unification; but, like the moth, it works quietly. .If the object is unification, why not propose it openly? I know that at one time the Labour party advocated unification; but I do. not know whether that is so to-day-. I am no unificationist; nor am I a federalist. I have no more time for the federation of the States than for the federation of trade unions or churches. Federation has not been the success that we were led to expect it would be. Now, after 27 years' experience of the Constitution, we are asked to alter it in order to injure the States. It is true that the State Premiers have accepted the agreement; but they had no alternative. It was a case of Hobson's choice - they were offered this agreement, or nothing. We told that for a period of five years the States will be better off under this agreement. But what about the generations yet unborn? We should remember that we are legislating not so much for the present generation as for those which will follow.

Senator Lynch - Even the present generation will be vitally affected by this agreement.

Senator VERRAN -- That is so. If this bill becomes law it will not be long before many now living will curse it. I am a strong advocate of State rights, and I entered the Senate as such. I never have been a federalist; indeed, I fought against federation, because, in my opinion, federation means the damnation of any country.

Senator Payne - What is the use of fighting against federation now?

Senator VERRAN -- While I live I shall fight for my principles. I have suffered for them before; but I still survive. In considering this measure we must not lost sight of the possibility of a change of government. What would happen if the Labour party were returned to power at the next election? Honorable senators may say that that' is not at all likely ; but I have lived long enough to see many unlikely things come to pass. Under federation South Australia sustains a loss of £750,000 per annum. It is true that under this agreement that State will gain for a few years; but what will happen then? And what will be the position at the end of 58 years? The framers of the Constitution were men of vision. One of then, Sir Edmund Barton, said -

The whole principle of federation depends on the framing of a constitution which maintains an even line of justice between the general authority and the provincial authority. To depart from that on one side or the other would seem to me to be a forgetfulness of the interests of Australia, or of the interests of one's own colony, We cannot do away with the solvency of the several States. If we do, those States die, and we have no longer a federation, but a legislative union. . . .

Another of the founders of federation, the late Sir George Reid, speaking at the third session of the convention, held in Melbourne in 1898, said -

Can we suppose for a moment that the Federal Parliament would listen to a man who showed by his proposals that he had not been able to reconcile the financial wisdom of the Commonwealth with the financial security of the States? Because the two things are absolutely bound up.

In a letter written by Sir GeorgeReid on the 13th August, 1909, to the Honorable John Murray, the Premier of Victoria, the writer said -

It seems to me that there is, whilst the matter remains open, an increasing danger of an arrangement which can be determined in a short time, not by conference or compromise, but by the will of the Federal Parliament. Time is on the side of your opponents. ... I am more responsible than any man for the termination of the Braddon clause. But I never wished to allow the States less than a fair share of customs and excise revenue, which is the only way in which the States can receive revenue from the masses of the inhabitants.

Senator Payne - Why did the framers of the Constitution agree to the inclusion of the words "until the Parliament otherwise provides", unless they realized that a time would come when an alteration would be necessary ?

Senator VERRAN - I do not agree that they foresaw such a time. The late Sir George Reid said that the States should have a fair share of the Commonwealth revenue.

Senator Needham - What is the honororable senator's view of a fair share?

Senator VERRAN - At least, the per capita payment of 25s. should be continued. The share of the States should certainly be on a per capita basis. The payments should increase automatically either with every increase of Commonwealth revenue or with the growth of the population.

Senator Thompson - Under the per capita system of payment, Victoria and New South Wales would benefit at the expense of the other States.

Senator VERRAN - That may be so ; but is one State to be sacrificed because another might get a little more? Must we always consider these questions only from the stand-point of Victoria and New South Wales, Have not the other States some rights? The weaker States must be protected. Men likeO'Connor, Lyne and Symon, never imagined that the day would come when a Federal Government would say to the States)' as the spider is reputed to have said to the fly, "Will you walk into my parlour?"

Senator Lynch - No notice is taken nowadays of the giants of the past.

Senator VERRAN - I do not say that the Government thinks otherwise than that it is doing right in introducing this measure; but the question I have to determine is whether I can vote for the agreement in view of its effect on future generations.

Senator Carroll - It can be varied. Senator VERRAN. - The variation of these matters depends upon what Government is in power. I have lived long enough to know that one Government has no consideration for what has been done by another. It will upset a previous Government's- decision if it does not believe in it. We cannot, therefore, rely on the future, and I feel that, in the circumstances, I must vote against the acceptance of the financial agreement embodied in this bill.

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