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Thursday, 24 June 1937

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) . - The proposal to reconstitute the Inter-State Commission is illtimed. An Inter-State Commission was appointed in 1912, but, apparently, it was a failure, and we have been for so long without it, that many honorable senators have almost forgotten that such a body had existed and they regard its valueas small. The bill to reconstitute the commission within a few months of an appeal to the electors appears to lend support to the current belief that some highly-placed persons are to benefit from its passage. The principal daily newspapers have made frequent references to the probable appointees. When one remembers that the chairman will get £2,500 a year for seven years, and the two other members of the commission £2,000 a year for the same period, one is inclined to think that there is substantial ground for current rumours, especially as the Government is anxious for the quick passage of the bill through a Parliament that is hastening to its dissolution. If the bill assured me of a lucrative appointment for a term of seven years, I could support it heartily. Such things have been done in the past. I have in mind a gentleman who was appointed to a position for which he had no qualifications; nevertheless, he was paid a handsome salary over a fixed term, and the total payments ran- into many thousands of pounds. Public opinion is against the appointment of boards and commission's to do work which the Government should do. This bill proposes to continue a practice the evil effects of which were most evident during the regime of the Bruce-Page Government. By appointing commissions, governments can evade their duties, and, at the same time, distribute largess to their friends and those from whom favours have been, or are likely to be, received.

The commission is to consist of three members, and as their duties will be of a semi-judicial nature, a highly-qualified legal man should be selected as its chairman. Apparently, however, the way is to be kept open for some one else to occupy that position. There are rumours that a prominent politician, . or ex politician, will be selected for the important post of chairman; but prominence in politics is not necessarily a qualification for a position of this nature. Even on the High Court Bench the influence of politics is apparent. That men who have been prominent in politics occupy high judicial positions is one reason why British workers sometimes refuse to have anything to do with arbitration. They reason - not without justification - that a judge who is in receipt of a salary of £7,000 or even £10,000 a year, cannot do justice to men working for wages of from £2 to £4 a week.

The Opposition cannot prevent the passage of this measure, nor can it hope to secure substantial amendments. It can only make suggestions for its improvement. I therefore suggest that, if one member of the commission is to be a man holding views favorable to the Government, one of the other positions should be filled by a man who favours Labour." That would make for better balance on the commission.

Senator Cooper - Why should not a man belonging to the Country party be appointed?

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - In Queensland, the State from which Senator Cooper comes) there is- no difference between the Country party and the United Australia party. The honorable senator himself entered Parliament as a representative of the Country Progressive Nationalist party. There are only two sides in politics in Australia - on the one . hand, the Labour party, and on the other hand, the parties opposed to Labour.

Senator Marwick - The honorable senator is only surmising that political appointments will be made.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - If capitalistic and financial interests are to be represented on the commission, Labour also should have representation there. Clause 12, (1), provides -

For the conduct of business any two commissioners shall be a quorum and shall have . . all the powers of the commission.

That is a bad principle. With a commission of only three members, all of them should be present at meetings. I suggest that the bill be amended accordingly. Subclause 2 provides that at all meetings of the commission, the decision of the majority shall prevail. There is no majority in a meeting of two, unless, , of course, both members are in agreement. A third sub-clause recognizes this, and so provides that, should the two commissioners differ in opinion on any matter, the determination shall be postponed until all the commissioners are present. The bill should provide for a quorum of three commissioners. I object also to the delegation of power to one commissioner as provided for in Clause 13. It may be necessary to make such provision in respect of a large body, but not with a commission of three members.

Clause 3 repeals the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1933, which, on the coming into force of this legislation, will go out of existence

By Clause 23, the commission is empowered to commence an investigation of any alleged contravention of the provisions of Part III., either of its own motion or on the complaint of any of a number of authorities mentioned in the clause.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - At this stage, the honor- able senator is not entitled to discuss the measure clause by clause. He must confine himself to the general principles of the bill. "

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - I was proceeding to deal with the principle contained in Clause 23. That clause provides for action by the- commission in the event of complaints being made to it by a number of authorities which are named. They are: a, the Commonwealth; b, any State or any State railway authority; c, any borough, municipality or body politic ; d. any harbour board, marine board, or other State authority; or e, any such association of traders or freighters, or chamber of commerce, manufactures, or agriculture as is, in the opinion of the commission, a proper body to make the complaint. Honorable senators will observe that no provision is made for representations to be made to the commission by any organization of workers. If these other authorities . are to be empowered to bring complaints before the commission, surely the workers whose interests are affected should be able to do the same.

Finally, the Labour party objects to the reconstitution of the Inter-State Commission, because there is no obligation on the part of the Government to follow its recommendations. The Government will accept the commission's recommendations when it suits its purposes so to do, and will hold the commission responsible; but otherwise the recommendations will be pigeon-holed. "We have seen how the present Government has treated reports of the Tariff Board. Recommendations favouring reductions of duties have been followed, but others have not been accepted by the Government. The appointment of an Inter-State Commission is not justified, and I shall oppose the bill.

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