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Friday, 9 October 1936

Senator COLLINGS (QUEENSLAND) - I shall produce evidence from the commission's report to prove the truth of my assertion. It cannot be denied that previously the commission based its recommendations on the disabilities suffered by the claimant, States as a result of those features of federal policy.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Those features were the basis of the claims submitted by the States.

Senator COLLINGS - Nevertheless, those aspects were considered. Thecommission in its previous reports definitely assessed the value of those disabilities. Now we find that the basis is entirely altered. As one who believes in greater powers being given to the Commonwealth, which connotes lesser powers for the States, I am not displeased to find State rights invaded. . But, like all other commissions which have been set up, such as the Broadcasting Commission, about which we heard a good deal yesterday - and I propose to see that the Senate hears a good deal more about it later on - like the Tariff Board, the Commonwealth Bank Board, and a number of other authorities created by this national Parliament, the Common wealth Grants Commission has become superior to its creators. It has now invaded the budgetary -position of the various States, and it says to them, in effect, "You have spent too much on social services; you have been too extravagant; you should not have paid out so much; your budgetary position is the result of your liberality. You are now to be penalized for that liberality". I invite the attention of honorable senators to page 99 of the latest report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, chapter8, dealing with themeasurement of relative financial position, wherein the commission presumes to tell the State Government? of Australia what it thinks of their budgetary position, and to dictate to the claimant States how they should do their job. The commission was not appointed to do that; it was appointed to gather information concerning the position of the claimant States. Itis all very well for the Leader of the Government to say that this is a complicated matter. There is nothing complicated about it; the Commonwealth has only to say to the smaller States which are suffering from disabilities, " Submit your evidence concerning disabilities. How much do you estimate those disabilities to be worth?", and then to come to a reasonable conclusion as to what compensation should be awarded.

Senator Hardy - Suppose the honorable senator tells us what the disabilities of federation are.

Senator COLLINGS - As usual Senator Hardy would like to make my speech, but I shall not permit him to do so. I submit that the honorable senator never has any surplus knowledge which it would be wise for him to give away. He should reserve it for himself, because -he will have a difficult task in attempting to refute what I. have already submitted. I remind Senator Hardy that it is a point of medical etiquette that one of the first things a doctor should do when a new patient comes along is to endeavour to get the history of the case, and to find out his previous medical adviser. The doctor is naturally averse to butting in on the case of a fellow practitioner. I do not intend to take this job out of Senator Hardy's hands. It is interesting to note what a wonderfully ardent thick-and-thin supporter of the Government he is to-day as compared with what he was a couple of years back, before he was elevated to the position of Leader of the Country party in this chamber.

The Opposition proposes to support these bills. We are always delighted to see the Government spending money in relieving anybody in difficulty, whether individuals or claimant States. I might let the Leader of the Government into a further secret. If a move is made to give back to Western Australia some of the grant which has been taken from it the Opposition will support it.

Senator Badman - What about South Australia?

Senator COLLINGS - If the honorable senator will propose that that State be given an increased grant the Opposition will support that too.

Senator Sir George Pearce - On political or financial grounds?

Senator COLLINGS - We shall support it because, although a lot of people imagine it is difficult to get money for this or that, we do not believe anything of the sort. The great evil from which Australia is suffering to-day is that in the hands of the common people there is not sufficient purchasing power. If the Government can throw money about by way of grants to claimant States, we shall be delighted to see it done, because we hope more of it will filter through into the hands of those who need it. I am entirely opposed to the basis on which the commission has worked; it is unscientific, and, from a democratic stand-point, is wrong. The claimant States have a right to have their disabilities assessed on a perfectly plain and understandable scientific 'basis. There is no complication about that. We should say to the States, " You are suffering certain disabilities. What is their cash equivalent?" Yet the commission has altered its ground, and with coldsteel effrontery has said to the State governments, " You will get less this time because your budgetary position does not please us ". That is merely allowing political bias to cloud the issue, and no commission, no matter how wonderfully constituted, is entirely free from political bias.

Senator Sampson - Is the honorable senator without political bias ?

Senator COLLINGS - I am not, but in contradistinction to the bias of the honorable senator from Tasmania, mine is scientifically based. All fair-minded senators will agree that no commission has the right to say to a State government "Look at your budget; you are down so many hundreds of thousands of pounds. You would not have been down so much if you had not spent your money prodigally ".

Senator Hardy - It is just as well that the commission did not visit Queensland.

Senator COLLINGS - My colleague, Senator J. V. MacDonald, informed the honorable senator yesterday exactly where Queensland stands under a Labour administration. I content myself by saying that we do not agree with the altered attitude of the commission. We do not agree that this or any other commission should arrogate to itself power greater than that of this Parliament. What would . be thought if the Leader of the Government took to task the State which I represent because of its budgetary position' I know that the Prime Minister or the Treasurer at premiers' conferences and meetings of the Loan Council has that opportunity, but, in a general way, what would be thought if this Parliament arrogated to itself the right to tell the Government of Queensland how to control its finances ? If that were done there would be such a wave of indignation that the Government would be swept out of office. Yet we have a commission to which we have given supreme authority to do its job setting itself up on a pedestal, and presuming to dictate to the States as to the manner in which they should control their finances. If a Labour government were in control of the affairs of this nation it would soon stop that kind of thing.

Senator Dein - That is why the Labour party is not in control.

Senator COLLINGS - What surprises me is how the party to which the honorable senator belongs ever got into power. But I am digressing. While the policy of this Government is in operation, instead of the policy of the Australian Labour party, the creation of authorities, which in a few short months . become greater than the National Parliament, will, I suppose, continue. In this case, the commission has suggested a course which meets with the approval of the Government. But this state of affairs should be ended. The Commonwealth Grants Commission should be told to confine its attention to the simple problem of ascertaining, in terms of money, the actual disabilities suffered by the various States under federation. If that had been done, I am satisfied that the grant for Western Australia this year would have equalled the amount paid last year. As for the other States, and, indeed, for Western Australia, also, other honorable senators are in a much better position thanI am - Queensland not being an applicant for any form of assistance due to federal policy - to support their claims. We should, however, bear in mind that unfair treatment by this Parliament may place in the hands of secessionists a useful weapon with which to injure the Commonwealth.

Senator Dein - Does the honorable gentleman think that unification is the remedy ?

Senator COLLINGS - We should, I repeat, be careful not to give to those who favour the secession movement in any of the States any argument with which to buttress their cause, because the preservation of the Commonwealth under this centra] government is the one thing worth while in the political life of this country.

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