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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr LAZZARINI (Werriwa) (1:23 AM) . - I have much pleasure in seconding the amendment, and I think it would be in the interests of the Commonwealth if the Bill were withdrawn, or, at any rate, given more consideration than it has received so far. I agree with much that has been said by the honorable member for Maribyrnong and other honorable members on this side of the House. I object to the Bill,' on the broad ground that it subverts the interests of the Commonwealth because of the clamour of the State-righters. I realize that this Bill will not take from the Commonwealth the right to impose direct taxation; but it seems tra me that if the Commonwealth hands over any of its functions to the States, even temporarily, that action must necessarily weaken the Federal spirit." We have reached a stage in the history of Australia when we should seek to make stronger the Federal spirit, in order to hasten the day when this Parliament will be the supreme legislative and governing power in the Common- wealth, delegating limited powers to provinces or States. The handing over of the power of direct taxation to the States by a voluntary arrangement would be a retrograde step, which would be calculated to do great harm and encourage those who are. clamouring for State rights and endeavouring to foster the parochial spirit, and detract from the Federal authority. I believe that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Austin Chapman) is. sincere in expressing the view that the Federal Parliament should be supreme, ' and that State Parliaments and Governors should be abolished, but I cannot reconcile that advocacy with his support of this Bill. Whilst this measure does not permanently surrender any power, it does involve an arrangement whereby the Commonwealth, in certain respects, will become secondary to the States. Moreover, the Bill is premature. It is brought down in the dying hours of the session, and is being rushed through' the House at express speed. Why 1 After the conference between Federal and State Ministers, the Acting Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Oakes) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Cocks) declared that they could not agree to certain features of the Commonwealth Government's proposals. It appears that only two States are likely to sign an agreement with the Commonwealth. Even if we pass it, it' is doubtful whether it will ' become effective. I shall always oppose measures which militate against the Federal spirit. I am inclined to think "there is a certain amount of make believe associated with this Bill. If the Government desires to know what the people really think about the duplication of public services, let it take the proper and courageous course and test public feeling by a referendum. It is natural to wish to eliminate duplication, but I am not prepared to agree to any proposal which will weaken the authority of the Federal Parliament. Many big business interests which spent large sums of money to defeat the Labour party's attempt to broaden the Federal Constitution are now clamouring for some relief from the Commonwealth and State duplication. The Government proposes to eliminate* a certain amount of duplication in taxation by sacrificing .its authority in respect of income taxation. Unfortunately, it has) already mutilated our land taxation arrangements. Such actions must in the course of time compel the Federal Parliament to rely upon the Customs Department for practically the whole of its revenue. The development of such a policy will seriously interfere with the progress of Australian industry. Large increases in Customs and Excise revenue indicate that foreign goods are too freely coming into Australia. I oppose the Bill, and hope the Government will withdraw it for further consideration. An additional reason I have for adopting th'is attitude is that its passing will adversely affect a large number of Commonwealth public servants, who have been specially trained in the distinctive methods of the Commonwealth Taxation Department. Stripped of all its superficiality, the Bill means economy by retrenchment of some of our best public servants. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) was much concerned lest some returned soldiers should be dismissed. I do not wish to see any employees dismissed. It is all very well to talk about finding work for them at Canberra. Men who have been following a clerical occupation for half their life-time are unfitted to undertake manual labour. That has been proved time after time. It would be disastrous and cruel to put these men to hard outdoor work. The only fair and humanitarian plan for retrenchment is to retire the public servants as they reach the age limit and not fill their places. That method may take a considerable time, but it will be the cheapest and best way. I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), and J trust that in justice to the people of Australia this Government will not barter away any of the Commonwealth powers or weaken the Federal spirit.

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