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Wednesday, 2 December 1936

The PRESIDENT - I have been waiting for the Leader of the Opposition to connect his references to. the work of this board with the bill, and I ask him to do so. But I cannot rule that his remarks are altogether irrelevant.

Senator COLLINGS - I regret that any of my remarks should hurt certain honorable senators. In my opinion, these points of order have been raised for the purpose of reducing the time allowed to me for discussing the bill. In his speech this afternoon Senator Sampson opened up the whole subject.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Senator Sampson has a reasonable excuse.

Senator COLLINGS - I realize that Senator Sampson did not have an opportunity to debate the second reading of the bill, because he was presiding over this chamber in the absence of the President; but Senator Payne and Senator Grant certainly had previous opportunities, and utilized them fully. Honorable senators should not lose sight of the fact that the whole matter is now under review, and before long they will return to their home States with the obligation to explain to their constituents their attitude in regard to the marketing referendum. Inview of the fact that every member of the community will, at the expense of the Government, receive printed propaganda setting forth the reasons for and against the referendum, an opportunity has been taken this afternoon by certain honorable senators to state one side of the case. Three of them, who are opposed to the bill, deliberately made provocative speeches, because they thought that the supporters of the bill would let them go without protest. In view of those speeches, we cannot reach an intelligent decision as to how we should vote on the third reading of the bill unless we are familiar with the relevant sections of the Constitution, the Privy Council judgment and the powers of the Dried Fruits Board and similar bodies. In order that no honorable senator shall be sent away from this chamber to participate in the referendum campaign in ignorance of the issue, I am doing my best to submit for their consideration what should be regarded as the vital facts. The Dried Fruits Act proceeds -

The board may constitute an agency of the board in London. ...

One objection taken to the Dried Fruits Board was that exporters were obliged to ship their commodities when and how the board prescribed. The only producers of fruit who took exception to that regulation were those who were not concerned with the welfare of the whole of the industry, but who sought an opportunity to play their own hand. Among them there was no suggestion of team work. They were only making an attempt to break down the protective regulations under the act little by little in order to derive a temporary advantage; if their actions had been permitted to continue, they would have caused the complete breaking down of the protective agency. I come now to the proposal which provoked such eloquence from Senator Grant -

The London agency shall keep the board in Australia advised as to current prices of dried fruits and as to other matters relative to the disposal of Australian dried fruits in England or elsewhere, and generally act as the agent of the board in accordance with the directions of the board.

There are many machinery sections which it is not necessary for me to read; but I come to the following: -

For the purpose of enabling the board effectively to control the export and the sale and distribution after export of Australian dried fruits, the Governor-General may by proclamation prohibit the export from the Commonwealth of any dried fruits except in accordance with a licence issued by the Minister subject to such conditions and restrictions as are prescribed after recommendation to the Minister by the board.

In such a manner was the board to be the supreme authority, with the concurrence of the Minister after it had submitted its recommendations to him. The act continues -

Any person who -

(a)   exports dried fruits from the Commonwealth in contravention of any proclamation under this act; or

(b)   being the holder of a licence under the last preceding section, contravenes or fails to comply with any term or condition upon which the licence was granted, shall be guilty of an offence.

Why not? Similar protective clauses are inserted in our industrial legislation. Even in connexion with the Labour party men are not sent to this chamber to voice their own opinions; they are pledged beforehand to give effect to the policy of the Australian Labour party. Every industrial award obliges the men engaged in the calling to which it applies to abide by it. Whoever disobeys it commits an offence and is liable, under the act, to penalties. That applies to the employers also. Previous speakers this afternoon have spoken of absolute freedom, but no such thing is or should be possible in a community organized as we are to-day. The individual should be allowed freedom only insofar as it does not conflict with the freedom of every other individual in the community. So soon as we begin to demand absolute freedom, we come into conflict with some law on the statute-book. Whilst I do not agree with many existing laws, I recognize that every one of them was put there at some time or other by a parliament which believed that it was adding to, rather than taking from, the worth-while freedom of the community. In practice, our freedom is restricted in all directions, because to give absolute liberty to any individual would be to decrease the liberty available to every other citizen. These are the restrictions over which Senator Payne and other Tasmanian representatives wept this afternoon.

Every part of the act under which the Australian Dried Fruits Board is operating has been declared by the decision of the Privy Council to be an infringement of section 92 of the Constitution, which provides for absolute freedom of trade between the States. All that legislation has gone overboard. As regards the case which the speakers who preceded me this afternoon attempted to make, if the Senate passed the bill, as I am sure it will, and the referendum were not carried, what would happen ? It would not be correct to say "Nothing will happen; we shall go on as we went on before ". We shall never go on as we did before, unless the Constitution be altered. Since 1924 every individual in this community, whether opposed to or in favour of orderly marketing, has honestly believed that the Commonwealth and State Parliaments, acting together, had the powers to legislate as they did in regard to marketing. That will be admitted, I think, even by honorable senators who are opposed to the bill and the referendum. We all believed that we had those powers.

Senator Dein - And nobody was injured.

Senator COLLINGS - Not only was nobody injured, but industry as a whole, and all primary products brought within the ambit of orderly marketing, benefited immensely. If I had the figures with me, I could tell the Senate of the tremendous good that orderly marketing has done to all forms of primary production in Queensland. Believing that they had those powers, the Commonwealth Government, with such States as passed the necessary complementary legislation, exercised them. Finally the whole business was referred to the Privy Council. The last thing I desire to do is to say anything derogatory of the great minds who constitute the Privy Council, but I assert definitely, not only from lifelong personal conviction as an Australian, but also because I am pledged to a programme and voice a policy which deny appeal to any authority outside of Australia regarding the interpretation of the Constitution, that the sooner the Aus tralian people begin to think in terms of Australia, the earlier they become real Australians, and declare that no authority outside the Commonwealth has the right to dictate the terms of their Constitution, the better.

Senator Brennan - I rise to order. By no stretch of the imagination can it be held that the bill contains any provision relating to the right of appeal to the Privy Council, or the need for restricting it.

The PRESIDENT - I ask Senator Collings not to discuss that aspect of the subject.

Senator COLLINGS - There appears to be something in the point of order raised by the Assistant Minister, until it is analysed. I claim the right to analyse every step which has been taken in this matter, including the appeal to the Privy Council. If the case had not been taken there, and if the Privy Council had not given the judgment it did, there would have been no occasion for this debate. I believe that I am entirely in order in saying that I belong to a party which is definitely pledged to the principle that Australia must decide for itself everything connected with its public life.

The PRESIDENT - The bill does not refer to the expediency or otherwise of appeals to the Privy Council.

Senator COLLINGS - I do not propose to pursue that line of argument further, as I have said what I wished to say. But I do claim the right to review and criticize the judgment of the Privy Council, because it led up to the present impasse. It rendered necessary the taking of a referendum in order to give to the Parliament powers which it believed that it possessed.

Senator Brennan - If the honorable senator pursues that line of argument, I shall object again.

Senator COLLINGS - I presume the Assistant Minister does not wish me to read out the whole of the judgment of the Privy Council? I should be tempted to do so, in order to show how little Australian sentiment there was in the outlook of that august body. The gentlemen who constitute the Privy Council are not to be blamed in any way for their judgment. Situated as they were 12,000 miles away, with an imperfect knowledge of the meaning of Australian events, and with the case for the Commonwealth put to them by a gentleman who had previously declared his own personal conviction to be the very opposite, they could not have been expected to give any other decision. I am not traversing their action now, but, because the decision of the Privy Council was the immediate cause of these proceedings. I claim the right to criticize it.

The PRESIDENT - Even if the proposed amendment be made in the Constitution, the right of appeal to the Privy Council will still remain. Therefore any reference made by the honorable senator in this debate to that subject will be futile.

Senator COLLINGS - I bow to your ruling, because I am not anxious to read the involved legal terms used by the gentlemen who by a majority arrived at that decision. Queensland is the home of legislation for orderly marketing, designed to protect the interests of the primary producer. In fact, it set the fashion in legislation of that character. Its acts are being copied by a number of other countries which never previously had legislation, of the kind. They heard what we were doing in Queensland, and sent their representatives to Australia to learn not only what was being done in my own State, but also what legislation the Commonwealth Parliament was passing. Even those honorable senators who are opposed to the bill will surely not claim that Queensland had no right to legislate in the interests of primary production. If they admit the right to legislate for the benefit and protection of those engaged in primary production, surely they will be open to conviction when they fmd legislation of the type which they now oppose being operated for the benefit of primary producers. As a matter of fact, some years ago the International Labour Office at Geneva sent a representative to tins country. Part of his task was to visit Queensland, in order to ascertain what was being done there with regard to the regulation of primary production. That gentleman addressed us here on his second visit to the Commonwealth only a few months ago. Honorable senators will all remember Mr.

Caldwell, the representative of the International Labour Office. On his previous visit, ten years earlier, he said to me in Queensland: " We are not so much interested in* your industrial and social legislation, because in some country or other, all that you are doing in Australia in that regard is being carried out. The only difference between Australia and other countries is that you are doing more of it here than is being done in any other part of the world ; but what I am particularly interested in is the legislation you are operating in regard to primary production. ' Do you know that there is no other country in the world that has yet attempted" what you are doing? You are the first people to prescribe a wage for agricultural workers, and we are very interested , in what you are doing in that regard ".. We in Queensland have made considerable strides since those days. It was the first State to devise a complete scheme of orderly marketing for primary producers. In order to make it effective we detailed all the necessary successive, steps .of organization through local associations .of primary producers, referred to as local producers' associations, up to State councils and a federal council. Every one of- these stages was designed for the organization of the primary producers themselves. That was accepted by the primary producers of Queensland, who formed local organizations on the lines suggested. Moreover, the Queensland Government financed the organizations for, I believe, five years, and then, at their request, for a further period of two years until they became firmly established.

The PRESIDENT - Have the schemes mentioned by the honorable senator been declared to have no legal standing?

Senator COLLINGS - Not all of them; some of them will be affected by the decision of the Privy Council in the James case. The Dairy Produce Export Control Board controls the orderly marketing of butter, which has meant an advantage of £1,250,000 to Queensland. Some honorable senators wish us to believe that the adoption of the proposed alteration will result in serious injury to the primary producers in certain States, but I challenge the accuracy of that statement. I agree with Senator Arkins, who said that although we are here to preserve the rights of the States, we should always have a broad Australian outlook. We should extend consideration to the claims of certain States, knowing that their representatives will, in turn, assist the States which we represent. I should not have spoken at this juncture had not oilier honorable senators exercised their right to speak. Notwithstanding the volume of business still to be transacted, if honorable senators opposite make statements which can be successfully challenged, they cannot expect this small, but united, Opposition to remain silent.

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