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Friday, 13 November 1936

Senator GRANT (Tasmania) . - If I had ever had any inclination to support this bill, the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) yesterday would certainly have convinced me that I was wrong. When we heard the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, possibly the Leader of the Government in the Senate on some future occasion, flaying that, in his opinion, all powers should be Vested in the Commonwealth andthat the States should have none-

Senator Collings - On a point of order. I am sure that Senator Grant is not wilfully misrepresenting me, but I assure him that I said nothing of the kind. What I did say was that all legislative powers should be vested in the Commonwealth. I did not enlarge on the administrative powers which necessarily would be transferred by the Commonwealth to the Stateparliaments, because that matter was not germane to the bill.

Senator GRANT - To refresh the honorable senator's memory I shall read his actual words. He said -

This Parliament should have all the legislative powers and nobody else should hare any.

Senator Collings - That was in reply to an interjection regarding industrial powers.

Senator GRANT - When I hear remarks of this kind coming from the leader of the Labour party in the Senate, all I can say is that I should be sorry indeed to think that we, in the smaller States, should have to bow to the dictates of the larger States through their representatives in this Parliament if it had full legislative powers on all matters. The States of Australia entered federation on certain terms. Speaking for my own State, and, I think, for most of the other States also, I say confidently that, if section 92 had not been in the Constitution there would have been no federation. The members of the convention that drew up the Constitution made it perfectly clear that one of the primary reasons for federation was the necessity for the abolition of customs barriers at Che borders; but we are now asked to sanction the re-erection of these barriers, so far as marketing is concerned. What is marketing! It has been claimed by the Government that all that is sought in the measure now before the Senate is to have conferred upon this Parliament constitutionally the powers which it thought it possessed priorto the decision of the Privy Council in the James case. I have consulted same eminent constitutional authorities on the subject, who are definitely of opinion that the words proposed to be added in the proposed new section 92a would give to a Common- wealth government, of whatever creed or colour, full powers to stop interstate freetrade altogether if it wished to do so.

Senator Collings - Who are the constitutional authorities who say that?

Senator GRANT - They are constitutional authorities who are known throughout Australia.

Senator BROWN - Did Mr. Menzies say that?

Senator GRANT - No, he actually said the reverse of that. I remind the honorable senator, however, that he was not quite right in the arguments that he addressed to the Privy Council. If the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition have any meaning at all, they mean he is in favour of complete unification. Does the honorable senator deny that?

Senator Collings - I believe in unification.

Senator GRANT - I do not. We have been told that, in voting for this bill, we shall he voting merely to put the Commonwealth back into the position which it thought it occupied before the Privy Council's decision in the James case.

Senator Collings - That is all that the bill proposes.

Senator GRANT - I have no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition considers himself a constitutional authority. I do not regard myself as such an authority, and I doubt very much whether the honorable senator knows any more than I do with respect to the legal effects of the proposed alteration of the Constitution. Section 92 is couched in clear and unmistakable language. That was the view held both by the High Court, until 1920, and the Privy Council. Until 1920 the meaning of that section was not contested. I feel sure that, if the High Court, as it was constituted during the first twenty years of federation, had been asked to interpret section 92, the decision would have gone against the Commonwealth. But, with the passing of time, and the alteration of the personnel of the High Court, a change of opinion in the direction of increasing the powers of the Commonwealth became manifest. For many years State instrumentalities were not considered as coming under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and not until a change took place in the personnel of the High Court was it decided that State, instrumentalities were in the same position as ordinary industrial concerns. I am a States-righter, and proud of it. , I consider that the Commonwealth is overriding the provisions inserted in the Constitution for the protection of the States.

Senator Collings - The honorable senator does not believe in moving with the times.

Senator GRANT - I think it can be shown that the Commonwealth has not moved with the times. Marketing schemes were successfully operated before ' the enactment of the special . legislation that was rendered invalid by the decision of the Privy Council. History records that in the days of Joseph there was a system of orderly marketing in Egypt.

Senator Collings - Does the honorable senator believe that we should conduct our business as they did in those days ?

Senator GRANT - No. I am not perturbed by the sneers of honorable senators opposite who regard me as a Conservative. Our views on public questions differ considerably, but we are all endeavouring to do our best in the interests of the whole community. I have no ill-feelings against those who differ from me politically, because I believe that we are all trying to do what we believe to be right. The proposed amendment of the Constitution reads -

The provisions of the last preceding section shall not apply to laws with respect to marketing made by or With the authority of Parliament in the exercise of any powers vested in the Parliament by this Constitution.

The Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies), in moving the second reading of the bill in the House of Representatives, said that no attempt had been made to define "marketing", and that its interpretation would have to be left to the High Court. I disagree entirely with those who contend that if this .proposed alteration is adopted the Commonwealth will exercise only those powers which it thought it enjoyed prior to the decision of the PrivyCouncil in the James case. That may be the intention, but if the proposal be adopted by the people, the Commonwealth will have the right to exercise powers much more extensive than those which it has used previously. This proposed alteration will give to the Commonwealth full powers in respect of marketing, without reference to any State authority, including the power to prohibit the transfer of goods from one State to another. A short time ago, the importation of butter into Tasmania was absolutely prohibited, because it was said that, at the time, there was sufficient butter in that State; but shortly after imports into Tasmania were prohibited, exports from Tasmania to the mainland were also prohibited, because there was sufficient butter in Victoria or some other State. Regulations controlling the movement of butter were enforced, not by a government department, but by a limited company formed in Sydney under the name of the Commonwealth Equalization Butter Committee Limited. This company has no statutory authority, yet on the mere say-so of this body, the Commonwealth meekly enforced regulations preventing the free movement of butter between the States. This company had the impertinence to try to collect an excise duty of 3d., and compel the use of an excise stamp of that amount on all dairy butter sold, and the Commonwealth allowed it to do so. Is that the way in which the people should be treated?

Senator J B Hayes - The rate was later reduced to 2d. per lb.

Senator GRANT - Yes ; but the butter bad to bear an excise duty stamp before it could be sold. The collection of excise, is a responsibility solely within the province of the Commonwealth Government. Some small dairy-farmers on the Tasman Peninsula, living right back in the bush, who produce four of five lb. of butter weekly, were in the habit of bartering small quantities of butter and cream for flour, tea, sugar and other necessaries. But this equalization committee, through a local committee, instructed these poor farmers that they were not to dispose of their product in that way, and employed a barrister at a high cost to fight the case against them. Costs amounting to a large sum, covering a few cases, were incurred, and because they could not pay their fines, a squad of police took these unfortunate people to the Hobart gaol a few clays before Christmas. Is that fair play?

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