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Wednesday, 28 March 1928

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - In accordance with the intimation I gave during the second-reading debate, I move -

That the following now clause be inserted: - "6. (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this act for the first tcn years after the passing of this act there shall be paid to each State for each year thereof a sura equivalent to 25s. per head of its estimated population.

(2)   For the first year following ten years after the passing of this act, and thereafter for each succeeding year, there shall be paid to each State a sum equivalent to 20s. per head of its estimated population.

(3)   For the purpose of computing the sums payable under (1) and (2), all moneys paid in liquidation of the debts of the States for the payment of interest and other purposes under the act, shall be deemed to be part of the total amount required to be paid on the per capita basis."

It would be a great help to me if when out-lining my reasons for moving this new clause I could get some expression of honorable senator's support such as always seems to come automatically to the assistance of Ministers in the shape of "hear hears " ! The amendment needs to be considered side by side with certain matters that have been raised during the debate on the second reading. It has been said that this agreement has been entered into between the Commonwealth and the States in the freest possible way. Senator Kingsmill said there was no such thing as coercion about it, and that sentiment was endorsed by other honorable senators, if not orally, at any rate, by their silence. I contend, however, that the States were compelled to enter into it. There is no moral law to compel any one to accept or respect an agreement entered into in the circumstances in which this agreement has been entered into. When an individual is compelled to enter into an agreement against his will, he cannot be held to it as a consenting party. If that were not so we should have no freedom in entering into agreements of a mutually beneficial character. I shall cite evidence for my assertion that the States were compelled to enter into this agreement. The first witness I put in the box is the Premier of Western Australia. When Mr. Collier returned to his State, he was reported in the West Australian, of 27th July, 1927, to have said -

The States had been forced into the position of having to consider an alternative arrangement.

No compulsion? If Mr. Collier has correctly stated the position there was undoubtedly compulsion. The next witness I put in the box is the Acting Premier of Queensland. Speaking at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in Melbourne on 27th June last, he said -

I think it better that we should take the initiative and deal with the matter ourselves rather than have the position forced upon us at a later date.

Hislanguage there is plain. It indicates that, in his view at all events, the States had no option but to accept the proposals placed before them. The word " forced " was used by the Acting Premier of Queensland. Where force is employed, there must be an absence of freedom. Notwithstanding what other honorable senators have said, the remarks of the Acting Premier of Queensland clearly show that there was coercion. The last witness I propose to summon in support of my contention is the Premier of New South Wales, whose view was interpreted by Mr. Lyons, the Premier of Tasmania, in these words -

Mr. Langsaid that if he accepted the Commonwealth Government's proposal, he would be recreant to the trust reposed in him by the people of New South Wales; but if theyhad a right to make a choice between the per capita payment and the new proposals, that objection would be removed.

I emphasize the word " right ". According to Mr. Lyons, Mr. Lang's view was that if the State Premiers had the " right " to make a choice, the objection would be removed. Mr. Collier, who endorsed the opinion of Mr. Lyons, then interjected -

We should all be campaigning in favour of the continuance of the per capita payment, showing clearly that the interpretation which Mr. Lyons placed upon Mr. Lang's remarks was that no other course was open to the Premiers - than that they had to accept the Commonwealth's proposals - take it or leave it. With these representatives of the States to support me, I repeat that the States accepted the agreement under duress. It is useless for any one to say that no pressure was brought to bear upon them because this Parliament has already abolished the capitation grants, and there was nothing else for the States to do but to eat humble pie.

For the moment I shall not comment on the remarks of the Leader of the Senate as to the position of Western Australia, I shall have an opportunity to do that later. I propose now to consider some of the reasons advanced by this Government and supported by a number of honorable senators, in support of the view that the per capita payments tended to make the rich States richer and the poor States poorer. I take the opposite view and for very good reasons. Senator Payne is opposed to the continuance of the capitation payments. As we all know, Tasmania is losing its young people who are migrating to the other States. Under the per capita system, the mainland States would receive larger payments from the Commonwealth owing to the exodus of population from Tasmania, while that State would suffer owing to a reduction in its population. The honorable senator omitted to mention thatthe young people who left his State were no longer his potential supporters. No doubt he thought it would be more to his advantage to study the interests of those who remained in the State and who, perhaps, would vote for him at future elections. Under the Government's plan the Tasmanian who stayed in Tasmania would be provided for, but the State which received the young Tasmanian would get nothing at all for him. We can understand how selfish motives sometimes intrude in a debate on such a measure as this. We should, however, take the broader view and consider how these financial proposals will affect the whole of the States. The history of development in every country shows that as the population increases the people push out to the newer areas which progress at a relatively higher rate than the earlier settlements. That was the experience in Canada, and it has been the experience in Australia. In Canada settlement first took place in the maritime provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland. Later, the people went north and west. Development was much more rapid in the newer than in the older provinces. We may expect, therefore, that the smaller States of to-day will be the more populous States of to-morrow. The Government has been wanting in courtesy to honorable senators in not having placed before them reliable information as to the position of the several States during the currency of this agreement and the old per capita scheme. Virtually we have been told, as the States have been, that we must accept it or reject it.

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