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Thursday, 12 November 1936

Senator ABBOTT (New South Wales) .- I have listened with a great deal of interest to those honorable senators who have already spoken on this bill, and especially to the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) with whom I am not always in agreement. The right honorable gentleman knows probably better than any other honorable Senator the state of affairs that existed at the time of the" inauguration of federation. I am old enough to remember the several convene tions which preceded federation, and the feeling which existed between the different colonies at that time. So strong was that feeling that one statesman of the day said that there Was a- possibility of civil war On the banks of the River Murray. The jealousy and hostility we're such that a person crossing from one colony to another felt that hd was in a foreign country.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Despite the existence of a common language.

Senator ABBOTT - Only to-day I was reminded by one of my Tasmanian friends that, when visiting Sydney in prefederation days, he hod- to turn out all his belongings at the border, and even shake out his shirt, so that it could be thoroughly examined by customs officer*That was the atmosphere in which federation was inaugurated. At that time the people wanted to be sure that there would be complete freedom of trade between the States ; that charges would not be imposed on goods passing from one State to another. The term " freetrade " as then understood has no relation whatever to its more modern meaning.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - At that time the people could not have applied their minds to something which did not exist.

Senator ABBOTT - That is so. They could not, for instance, have provided for developments in aviation. There has been a good deal of loose talk regarding the intention of the founders of the Constitution, but, apparently, no cognizance has been taken of the words at the beginning of section 51- ; -

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to' make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth With respect to - (i. ) Trade and commerce with other countries, and among the States:

Senator Hardy - That is a strong point.

Senator ABBOTT - Yes; there must have been some thought in the minds of the fathers of federation that the Commonwealth Would have some function to perform in regulating trade between the States, and it is only by misfortune that section 92 was worded as it is to express the intention of the framers. There are some honorable senators who declare that the founders of federation intended that there should be freetrade for all time between the States, and that that is the intention expressed by section 92, but it is just as reasonable to submit that they meant what I take to be the meaning of the opening words of section 51, namely, that the Commonwealth should have power to regulate interstate trade.

Senator McLeay - Provision was made in the Constitution for the people to alter it as time passed.

Senator ABBOTT - Exactly ; I thank the honorable senator. The attitude adopted by some honorable senators and others is almost heartbreaking. When walking down a Sydney street recently, 1 was engaged in argument on the subject of the alteration of the Constitution by a gentleman who used very much the same words as have been used in the Senate this afternoon. In effect, he said that the founders of federation meant trade among the States to be free for all time. * Good heavens, man ! " I replied, " did they say that you had to live 35 years ago? Life can never be static; conditions must change. You are living in 1936, not 1901, and the founders of our Constitution gave us tho right to alter it in accordance with the requirements and interests of the nation." In a lecture to the Senate this afternoon, Senator Payne claimed that the solution of the problems which had given rise to this measure lay in a great increase of the population of this country. 'He forgot, however, to rem,nd us that when tho debate on dried fruits took place in this chamber in . the early part of last year, the fact was disclosed that during the depression in California many hundreds of men were driven off their farms, because they were dependent entirely upon the dried fruits industry, which had collapsed. It was also disclosed that, of all the countries producing dried fruits, including California. Smyrna, and Greece, Australia was the only one in which the producers were at least able to obtain a return of production costs on the sales of their commodity. That was entirely due to the existence of the marketing legislation.

Senator COLLINGS - Hear, hear!

Senator ABBOTT - The Australian marketing control legislation is a monument to those who devised it. It had the result in the depression years of ensuring to the Australian producers at any rate a return covering the costs of production, while producers in other countries were being driven off their farms. In Greece, a revolution occurred, I believe, as the result of the collapse of the dried fruits industry, whilst in Smyrna conditions became so bad that the Government of Turkey had to step in and buy up the crops on the off-chance of being able to effect sales in the future. The condition of affairs which existed in Smyrna was due to price cutting by persons who, as James did in South Australia, took advantage of marketing opportunities, to the detriment of all others engaged in the industry. Some honorable senators would allow that condition of affairs to remain so that there would be a prize for the worst quality of human nature - selfishness. Such callous disregard of the interests of others is contrary to the Australian virtues of fair play and comradeship - that readiness of men to share with their mates, which made the worker and the capitalist unite in 1914 to offer their all to the country. These qualities have built up the great character of this Australian nation, but they are now threatened, because pertain people wish to allow an individual to destroy the local market by seizing the plums which are offering from time to time. I believe that in order that tho dried fruits industry of this country shall not be forced to occupy the position into which the dried fruits industry of Smyrna was forced, the marketing legislation in relation to dried fruits and other commodities is well worth retaining

The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) has very strenuously, and I am glad to say, forcibly and, I believe, sincerely, advocated the acceptance of this measure. I could wish for the same sound Australian point of view to be taken by other sections of the Australian Labour movement. I cannot forget that in every industry the worker is protected by some kind or other of industrial award. The rural industries themselves might not give to the workers in them the same standard of wages and con- ditions as operate outside, but the workers on Uie railways, which carry the primary products from the farm to the city, are protected by the industrial courts, and in almost every other direction the same conditions apply. Within the cities and towns the wages and working conditions of the factory employees are prescribed, and if this Parliament refuses the measure of protection to the primary producers that this bill proposes to afford mein, it will be acting very unfairly. I put this question to my Tasmanian friends who are opposed to this measure : if the industries concerned in this proposal go to the wall from what source will the smaller States, which claim grants from the Commonwealth, obtain assistance? It is not at all improper to remind them that, as the other States stand up for Tasmania in the matter of Commonwealth assistance, Tasmania should equally stand behind the great primary-producing industries of the other States, whether Tasmania itself be affected or not. It has been urged that the principal duty of honorable senators is to represent the views of the States which send them here. I contend that our first duty here is to be broadminded Australians.

Senator Arkins - Has the honorable senator noticed any inclination on the part of the larger States to do ill to the smaller States?

Senator ABBOTT - Most definitely, no.

Senator Arkins - Neither have I.

Senator ABBOTT - The smaller States will he taking an extremely short view and will endanger the prosperity of the nation if they deny this protection to the primary producers of Australia, no matter in what States the primary production affected happens to be conducted. I appeal earnestly to honorable senators not to forget the fact, which I repeat without wishing unduly to impress it on my manufacturing friends, that the success of Australia depends on the prosperity of the primary industries. We should never shut our eyes to that fact. The Senate will be taking a great risk if it denies to the primary producers the protection which the Government's proposal, if endorsed by the people, will give to them. I think that those who devised the Commonwealth marketing scheme are indeed to be congratulated, and my vote certainly will be cast in favour of the bill.

Sitting suspended from 6.16 to 8 p.m.

Senator ABBOTT - The objection which Senator Duncan-Hughes raised to the proposed alteration of the Constitution, was ably disposed of by the Leader of the Senate. During the latter's remarks I interjected that the fears of the graziers that the proposed power might be used by some future government in a way detrimental to the glaziers, was unfounded, because, by this bill, the graziers would not be put in a worse position than that in which they are to-day. For years, governments have had the power seriously to interfere with the business of the graziers by taking control of their exports. It is wrong to suppose that future Commonwealth Governments will be a set of lunatics who will try to cut the graziers' throats. During the regime of tlie Scullin Government an embargo was placed on the exportation of sheepskins, and that meant a loss which, at that time, the graziers could ill afford. Members of the Country party have often been charged with endeavouring to raise the issue of city versus country. When Senator Hardy and I visited several country towns some time ago, we found a tendency among people to whom the primary producers might reasonably look for friendly support, to oppose the proposed alteration of the Constitution on the ground that that would be the safer course to adopt. It was surprising to discover that attitude, because the people who live in towns and cities are fully protected through the tariff and wages awards. If the primary producers were left high and dry, and had to appeal to the Government annually for help in the form of bounties, they would never know exactly where they stood. If they were deprived of the benefits to which they considered themselves entitled prior to the recent decision of the Privy Council, such a feeling of bitterness would be engendered as would result in an attack upon the standards of living of the manufacturers and the workers. All classes other than the primary producers are now protected. Surely the primary producers are entitled to similar consideration.

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