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Wednesday, 22 August 1906

Mr REID (East Sydney) .- In the first place, I gather from the Minister that this is a Bill which is practically intended to simplify the previous Act, and to consolidate its provisions.

Mr Groom - That is so.

Mr REID - But, as the Minister has in.timated. it introduces' some changes in the existing law - changes which he has explained. The first question that naturally arises in the mind of any honorable member is, " What is the extreme and paramount urgency of this particular measure"? It is a measure containing some sixty-seven clauses, and in it a number of important points must be considered. I therefore desire to know what is the extreme urgency which warrants it being given preference over measures upon the business paper such as the following : the Electoral Validating Bill and- the Bounties Bill?

Mr Groom - The right honorable member may, if he desires, move the adjournment of the debate. I do not wish to proceed any further at this stage with the motion for the second reading.

Mr REID - As I have commenced my speech, I cannot move the adjournment of the debate without losing my right to further address myself to the motion. We have on the business-paper the Electoral Validating Bill, the Bounties Bill, the Postal Rates Bill, the Copyright Bill, the Preferential Ballot Bill, the Spirits Bill, and the Excise Tariff Bill. We have only five weeks in which to deal with these measures, as well as the Estimates, and some other Bills relating to the Tariff, and vet my honorable and learned friend has calmly risen at this crisis in the business of Parliament to invite our attention to a measure that has no element of national importance or urgency. Whilst I supported the Government in the measures they have taken for the protection of the revenue, I submit that we must not lose sight of the cardinal principle which alone justifies the exaction of duties without the authority of the law. I refer to the fact that, whilst Parliament, for the protection of the revenue, will justify the illegal exaction of duties from the King's subjects, the period during which those exactions obtain- must be strictly limited. The illegal exaction of duties must continue for the briefest possible time. When such proposals are made it is the duty of the Parliament at the earliest possible date In settle them, and to decide what duties, if any, shall be levied, in order that the condition of unrest, uncertainty and illegality may be brought to an end. We have on the business-paper a Spirits Bill, which the House ought to be ready to consider, and also an Excise Bill, a Bounties Bill, and an important measure relating to a change in the electoral and franchise law. Whilst we are in this trying situation - having all these Bills to consider - a Lands Acquisition Bill is brought forward. I do not wish, however, to enlarge upon these objections - I simply point them out. I come now to a matter that is greatly to be deplored. I think that we should endeavour in every way to cultivate friendly and harmonious relations between the Commonwealth and the States. There should be no unnecessary assumption of superiority. The Minister, in the course of his speech, used an expression which I think was ill-advised - when he spoke of this being a Bill for the exercise of powers by sovereign communities.

Mr Groom - I referred to the exercise of powers by the States as well as by the Commonwealth.

Mr REID - But I am going further than that-

Mr Groom - The right honorable gentleman is under a misapprehension. These powers must be exercised by the States as well as by the Commonwealth.

Mr REID - That is the point; but under this Bill the sovereign right of the community is to be exercised over the sovereign rights of the States.

Mr Groom - Only so far as is permitted by the Constitution.

Mr REID - I am merely criticising the use of such an expression.

Mr Groom - The right honorable member is attaching to it a meaning that I did not intend to convey.

Mr REID - May I suggest that the question ia not as to the intention with which the words were uttered; it is practically one of fact.

Mr Groom - The right honorable member will recognise that I did not mean to convey the inference he suggests.

Mr REID - I do not wish to be unfair to the Minister by saving that he had any desire to use an expression that would be offensive. I refer to the matter only because it leads up to a more serious point. Great offence was given bv the original title of this Bill. Instead of a plain, business-like title, clearly defining the object of the measure, and raising no question of superiority as between the Commonwealth and the States, the Government applied to the Bill a title that was certainly an extraordinary one in the politics of Australia.

Mr Groom - It is a well-known term in constitutional law.

Mr REID - I trust that the honorable and learned gentleman will permit me to express my views on this question. It was most grotesque that practical business men who know that the measures passed by all the States Parliaments have plain business titles should have been asked to consider a BiU bearing such a title as that to which I refer. We were suddenly electrified by the introduction of a serious measure bearing the title of the "Eminent Domain Bill." Even some gentlemen who have passed legal examinations like to refer occasionally to law dictionaries, and I turn to a judicial dictionary to ascertain what is the meaning of such an expression. It may be possible that the explanation will be of interest to the general community having regard to the extraordinary surprise that was sprung upon them -

Eminent Domain. - The right which a Government retains over the estates of individuals to resume them for public use.

Under this Bill power is given to deal with the States which are sovereign communities, and yet by the application of such a title to it they were treated as if they were on the same footing as a private individual who owns an allotment of land. These quaint, fantastic titles can serve no useful purpose. As a matter of fact, the use of the title I have mentioned occasioned bitter debate in another place. There was a prolonged struggle, and the Government stuck to their guns in a way that is unusual in this branch of the Legislature.

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