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Wednesday, 3 April 1946

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - This is not the first occasion on which the Parliament has been asked to agree to certain bills having for their object the amendment of the Constitution by way of an appeal to the people of Australia. There is no need to go over the ancient history of these matters, except to say that the Constitution of the Commonwealth is a peculiar document. By its very nature it must be one of the outstanding acts of any federated country. The United States of America, Canada, South Africa, Switzerland and Australia are examples of democracy operating under federal constitutions. It stands to reason that there are certain methods of altering that Constitution shouldthe necessity arise, but it is equally clear that the methods contained in the Constitution are not always the methods that are the most acceptable to the people who have to give consent. The method incorporated in the Australian Constitution, I think, is one of the most cumbersome, lopsided methods in any Constitution. Government after government has attempted over a long period of years to secure alteration of the Commonwealth Constitution, but I think only two of the many attempts have been successful. One was in 1905 or 1906, when the people consented to an alteration of the method of electing the Senate. The other gave the Commonwealth certain authority over, and infinitely more responsibility for, the debts of the six States. Since I came to this. Parliament, about twelve years ago, two other attempts ha ve been made to alter the Constitution. I was on the " Yes " side in 1937, when we tried for two amendments, one to surmount what were believed at that time to be, but have since proved to be not quite what we thought they were, the difficulties arising out of the adverse decision of the* Privy Council in the James case relating to dried fruits.' The other was a simple matter concerning aviation. Both were turned down overwhelmingly by the people.

Less than two years ago, the present Government believed that the people, having returned it with overwhelming numbers, would agree to any alteration of the Constitution it cared to submit to them. A very interesting bill was passed through this Parliament. It had every bit of trimming and icing from a wedding gown down to a birthday cake, but it was not acceptable to the people. It did- not receive the support of a majority of the voters or a majority of the Sta tes. . Only two States out pf the six voted for it. The Attorney-General is an able lawyer, and, no doubt, a persistent man. I have no doubt that if some day he came to the table and told us exactly what his ambitions were when he entered this Parliament, we should learn that one of the foremost was that he should be able to. say, " I got the people of Australia to alter the Constitution in the way I said it should be altered ".. Now he is having a second stab at altering the Constitution, but this time he is submit- ting his proposals in three separate parts. I thought that, having regard to the importance of the proposed changes he was asking the Parliament to submit to the people, the right honorable gentleman's three speeches w.ere extremely short. I also thought them remarkable, not for what they said, but for what they did not say. I think the bills remarkable, too, not for what they ask the people to agree to, but for what the right honorable gentleman hopes they will agree to, which is not plainly stated in them. I intend to deal first with the three speeches. He talked about the all- Australian purposes for which money is raised by the Parliament. He said that the Parliament ought to be able to spend for any Australian purpose the money it raised. Exactly what does that mean? He gave us two interpretations of section 81 of the Constitution. It is clear that section 81 has been interpreted by the High Court in the way in which, perhaps, any common-sense man would interpret it, namely, the only purpose for which the Commonwealth Parliament can spend federal revenue is a purpose permitted by the Constitution. Any other construction of section 8.1 is unthinkable. In my view, any other construction would produce a ".tate of affairs in which no State parliament would have the right to exist, let alone govern, if the Commonwealth Parliament decided to trespass on its preserves. This bill is framed in a most alluring way. The right honorable gentleman put down a list of the things over which he wants power. I shall deal with them one by one. Maternity allowances were introduced into the Commonwealth by a Labour government in 1912 and have been in operation ever since. There has been no attempt by any one to upset them. There has been no question in party politics of their being invalid or opposed. No party has threatened to remove them from the statute-book. No person- has appealed to any court challenging the constitutional validity of those payments. That being so, why does the Attorney-General, after the lapse of 35 years, discover some vague doubt, some probability of challenge, or some vague intangible reason why these payments- may no longer be deemed to be constitutional? He cannot sustain any argument there, and obviously the reference to maternity allowances has been included for some political purpose. Widows' pensions have not been challenged from either side of the House. Nobody has appealed to the High Court or to any other court, claiming that the Commonwealth did not possess constitutional power to mate those payments. T remember perfectly well, and the Prime Minister will also remember, that ii? 1941 the Child Endowment Bill was introduced in this chamber by a government formed by the parties who now form the Opposition.

Mr Conelan - Do not be silly. Honorable members opposite quarrelled among themselves and it was the Labour party which, in fact, passed the bill.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - If the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) wants a little dissertation on the subject of members of parties quarrelling among themselves, 1 can give it to h im.

Mr Conelan - The honorable member is qualified to do so.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I do not want to pursue that matter to-night, but if we ever discuss the history of quarrels in this chamber, I shall be able to portray the honorable member's- difficulties with the Labour party, and that will not, suit him.

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