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Friday, 22 May 1936

Senator BRENNAN (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - Honorable senators should consider two things. First, they should bear in mind the nature of the Ottawa agreement. As has so often been said, it is an agreement between nations. It contains no provision whereby a decision as to whether or not there has been a breach of it shall be given by any tribunal. It cannot be so tried. To a certain extent, therefore, the parties to the agreement must decide its terms, and also whether a breach has been committed.

Senator Collings - That was decided last week.

Senator BRENNAN - That may be; but the fact still remains that, in the very nature of things, the agreement is something about which it cannot be said with precision that a certain thing is, or is not, a breach of the undertaking entered into. That aspect was recognized by those who drafted the agreement, for its very last article contains a provision that if any difference of opinion as to the meaning of any of its terms should arise, the signatory countries undertake to make it a matter of discussion. The second factor which honorable senators should bear in mind is the course which events have taken. The position has been put soundly by Senator Dein. Certain proposals which were in accordance with the recommendations of the Tariff Board were placed before the House of Representatives. That chamber adopted, in relation to them, the course that it thought right. The proposals then came before the Senate, which expressed the opinion that the duties should be those recommended by the Tariff Board - not the slightly higher duties suggested by the other chamber. I remind the Senate that the two Houses of this Parliament are branches of one legislature, which exists to do the best possible in the interests of the whole community.

Senator Sampson - And of the cement industry.

Senator BRENNAN - I hope that the honorable senator's interjection does not mean that he thinks that the legislature exists to benefit the cement industry, regardless of the interests of the country as a whole. The position being as I have said, there is no need for any political crisis, or for anything heroic, or even for mock heroics.

Senator Collings - Chop and change, and be as changeable as a chameleon!

Senator BRENNAN - The Leader of the Opposition has expressed amazement at what has taken place. He claims we are not here to retract opinions that we have expressed.

Senator Collings - Opinions that we hold.

Senator BRENNAN - If we are like the Bourbons, who learned nothing and forgot nothing, we shall stick to the opinions that we have expressed merely because we have expressed them. But if we are trying to arrive at the truth, and to reach a sound conclusion, we shall reconsider the opinions that we have expressed, and possibly modify them. That is what honorable senators in some cases may be asked to do. A reasonable and sensible compromise has been arrived at. The House of Representatives said that the duty on British cement should be 6d. a cwt. ; this chamber favours the free entry of cement from Britain as recommended by the Tariff Board. The request of the Senate went to the other chamber. The necessity for some sort of legislative agreement was recognized, with the result that a compromise was agreed to by the other House. That sensible compromise is now before this chamber and the committee is asked to accept it. In accepting it no honorable senator violates any principle; he merely illustrates the truth that " compromise is the essence of government." These are not necessarily matters of conscience, but matters of expediency to be decided with due regard to the exigencies which have arisen. I ask the committee to accept the compromise which has been arrived at by the House of Representatives.

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