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Wednesday, 18 November 1936

Senator UPPILL (South Australia) . - I have followed with serious interest the debate on this important subject, more particularly because it is the first occasion on which I shall be able to record a vote on a bill proposing an alteration of the Commonwealth Constitution. The various legal opinions expressed have differed so greatly that one is somewhat unconvinced as to whether the proposal now before the Senate, if adopted, will be constitutional. Although I intend to support the proposal I have not been convinced that the Commonwealth is wise in asking the electors to grant it additional powers at this juncture. The Government has been actuated by the decision of the Privy Council in the James case, and it would appear that the general impression of the electors is that the Commonwealth in its endeavour or ambition to obtain increased powers lias received a rebuff. The electors do not realize that the State governments have also received a rebuff, or that the Commonwealth legislated at the request of the States when they found that their powers were inadequate. The Commonwealth Government having come under the notice of the public in the litigation which has just terminated has now to carry the stigma, and although it is not responsible for the position -which has arisen, the suspicion of the people is upon it. In these circumstances, I believe that there is little prospect of the Commonwealth obtaining increased powers, and that it should not have appealed to the people until the powers it now possesses had been exhausted. Those engaged in the production of dried fruits have said that an excise duty and a bounty would be acceptable- to them but I believe that they would prefer the continuance of the system under which they have been operating. With the general improvement of the prices of primary products, particularly wheat, wool and meat, a large section of the producers would prefer this proposal to be deferred for the present at least, more particularly because of the suspicion which will be caused by the Commonwealth asking for additional powers before those which it now possesses have been utilized. Further, many persons are likely to oppose the proposal because it will cost the taxpayers approximately £100,000, when they1 have not yet been convinced that the Commonwealth does not possess sufficient power to control the handling and marketing of certain primary products. It would be better to delay taking a referendum until every other power which the Commonwealth possesses has been exhausted, when the electors would be convinced that additional powers were essential. If a majority of the people in a majority of the States record a negative vote the Commonwealth will still be in the position in which it is to-day. I believe that the Government is anxious to assist the primary producers, and to prevent interference with the present marketing system. However, if, as has been stated by some legal authorities, the adoption of the proposed alteration would not deprive the States of any powers, but would increase them, there does not appear to be any reason to oppose the proposal. To oppose the bill would appear to be voting against the interests of those engaged in the dairying and dried fruits industries which have all the necessary machinery in operation. From 1920 until the recent decision of the Privy Council a majority of the Australian people believed that the Commonwealth possessed the power which it now seeks to obtain. Proposals made in this Parliament to enable the Commonwealth to exercise the power which it was thought to possess were supported almost unanimously by the honorable senators on both sides of the chamber. No opposition was offered, and for some years we have proceeded in the belief that the Commonwealth in cooperation with the States had the authority to control marketing. The legislation thus passed resulted in great benefits being conferred upon important sections of primary producers. I have always been opposed to rigid governmental control of marketing such as by means of compulsory pools, and I trust that if this proposal be adopted the Commonwealth will not have the power to establish such pools. I regret the circumstances which practically compel the Commonwealth to submit this proposal to the people, but with practically every nation operating under highly protective policies, which are keeping our export prices below the cost, of production in Australia, the Commonwealth is compelled to legislate to tide producers over a trying period, and to place them on the same basis as those engaged in other protected industries. For those reasons I support the bill.

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