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Wednesday, 2 March 1932

Mr GREGORY (Swan) .- The promise of the Prime Minister that the life of this measure will be limited to two years satisfies one of the principal objections I entertain towards it. As soon as I read the bill I wired the Premier of Western Australia, and communicated by telephone with the Acting Premier of Victoria, urging them to use all their influence to induce the Government to set a short term to the life of this legislation. It is an emergency measure dealing with the Financial Agreement. I was one of those who opposed the Financial Agreement, because I knew that the legislation of the Government of that day was tending towards unification. I am a great believer in bringing legislation and administration as near to the people as possible; it is always better and always cleaner. I am a great believer in .upholding the Constitutions, Federal and State, but I desire to ensure that no undue power is granted to the Commonwealth.

It is obvious that the Government must take some action to recover the money concerning which New South Wales has defaulted. We cannot allow the matter to drift. I have tried to see just How this bill is going to work out - what its result will be - but have been unable to do so. The Government of New South Wales has repudiated its obligations, and afterwards has had the impertinence to ask for further loans, so that it might again repudiate. There is no doubt that members of that Government are associated politically with persons who are desirous of destroying society. Some of Mr. Lang's advisers are a menace, not only to the State of New South Wales and the Commonwealth, but to the Empire itself. At the Premiers Conference Mr. Lang made promises to the representatives of the other States, and one would expect a man holding his high position to do his best to honour those promises. Instead of that he has disgraced the parent State of the Commonwealth, and injured the good name of Australia. It seems difficult to believe that the man is not "mental". One is at a loss to assign reasons for his extraordinary conduct, and can only assume that he is being led by those whose aim it is to destroy all those ideals we love and cherish.

The first part of this bill is designed, I believe, to save" the face of the Government. No one has really any doubt that the Commonwealth Government took over the debts of the States, and is responsible for them. I will not support clause 6 of this bill. In regard to it I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), because it is not right that in a matter with which it is concerned this Parliament should be both accuser and judge. The issue between a State and the Commonwealth must be determined by the High Court. I urge, however, that every action possible within the law should be taken to bring Mr. Lang to heel, and compel him to honour his obligations. We must, restore fair dealing between governments within the Commonwealth.

The Financial Agreement is a document signed by six sovereign States and the Commonwealth, but to the Commonwealth alone is given power to make laws to carry out the agreement. While the emergency of the present case requires that the Commonwealth should take action without waiting to consult the States, I believe that, some time during the next two years, the representatives of the Commonwealth and the States should meet for the purpose of agreeing upon legislation which will ensure that the agreement is carried out, yet will safeguard the rights of the States. In the past we have had Commonwealth Governments which were only too glad to use every power the Constitution gave them

In dominate the States. I do not wish to see anything done to bring us nearer to unification than we are now. It should be possible to frame legislation which would not threaten a State which might find itself in temporary financial difficulty, but could be used against a recalcitrant State, such as New South Wales is to-day, for the purpose of forcing it to honour its obligations under the Financial Agreement.

Clause 18 is somewhat arrogantly drawn. It provides that the Commonwealth may take possession of moneys belonging to a State, and then, if the High Court finds that such moneys are not due by the State to the Commonwealth, all the Commonwealth is compelled to do is to hand them back. It should, of course, have to pay compensation to the State for the indignity put upon it. I am glad that the Government proposes to treat this legislation as an emergency measure, and I trust that when it reaches the committee stage the Government will approve of certain amendments which I have in mind.

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