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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (12:42 PM) . - The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), on behalf of the Opposition, made a splendid contribution to the discussion of the important subject of constitutional reform. He analysed the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, and stated his views in relation to the expenditure by the various States on social services and other matters. In doing so, he elaborated the policy of the Labour party on the subject of unification, the increase of the membership of this Parliament in order to make it truly representative, and the way in which the existence of State Parliaments tends to frustrate the national will in tin]e of war. It was not until the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) rose that there was any sign of repudiation in the ranks of Tuscany. Even the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) remained silent; and X. remind him that silence gives consent. Most honorable members opposite listened to their spokesman in silence, although some of them have been ungenerous enough to object to the way iti which he announced what 1. assume was the case for the Opposition, because if the honorable member for Richmond did not speak for the Opposition, why was he put up to speak at all? I remind the House that he spoke from the leader's place at the table, and that his speech had been carefully prepared. It was not an ex tempore address by any means.

Mr Anthony - It was a personal statement of belief..

Mr CALWELL - It was an excellent speech. One of the greatest misfortunes which have befallen Australia was the separation of Victoria from New South "Wales in 1851, and of Queensland from New South Wales in 1859. The setting up of sovereign States in Australia was a bad beginning. Half a century passed before the establishment of a federation of States undid some of the harm. If we had in operation the Canadian system, or that of South Africa, we could truly say that we were a unified nation ; but although we are unified in the sense that we have one flag, one language, and one destiny, we have, in time of peace, six sovereign States, frustrating the Commonwealth, and, in time of war, six sovereign States, which are a nuisance aud may be a danger. Not only have the States separate taxing powers, which are exercised differently, making it extremely difficult for the Commonwealth to achieve uniformity in anything, but they also have a different outlook on almost every question of public importance. The desire of the Commonwealth Government to do the best for the nation is not assisted by the existence of separate sovereign States. Until such time as we get a unified nation, Parliament will have to pass a Commonwealth grants bill every year. There is inherent in the Constitution a power which if properly exercised would bring us nearer to unifformity ; I refer to the financial power. If this Parliament would exercise that power to a greater degree, it would eventually reduce the States to the point at which they would all be the recipients of assistance from the Commonwealth, and we should probably have to tax at the rate of £.1 3s. 6d. in the £1 and then give back to the States, in consequence of the recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, what Parliament thought was fair in order- to enable them to carry on certain services. Concurrently, we should have to take over some of their responsibilities for social services. In that way, this Parliament would become more and more important, and the States less important.

The desire of the honorable member to increase the membership of this Parliament finds support on all sides. In 1933, the present Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) made a great contribution to the literature upon the subject. I. have discussed this matter with members of all parties, and it seems to me that it should be easy to pass a bill to increase the membership of the Senate to 72, and to double the number of members of this House. A House of, say, 150 members would be none too large for the responsibilities that it has to discharge both in peace and in war. Part of the argument against greater powers being given to Parliament is that there are only 75 members in. this House. People say: "Paney governing Australia from one centre by that small number of members!" I can understand some of the objections of the le3s populous States to being governed by so few members. If this Parliament contained sufficient mem hers to be really representative of the nation, a lot of that feeling would disappear and public opinion would force a reduction of the number of members in State parliaments, and that would eventually result in the elimination of overlapping as well as in considerable savings. I do not think that the less populous States should be placed in the position of being mendicants at the door of this Parliament. If we had a more representative Parliament, and consequently a better one, and gave to it greater powers, the necessity to give to the less populous States sufficient money to enable them to extend social services would disappear almost automatically.

Mr Prowse - All that they want is a chance to earn their own living.

Mr CALWELL - As I understand the position, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania desire only to be given their rights and to develop in common with the other States of the federation. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Parliament does not control the whole of the economic life of the community. Its powers are limited in a number of directions. For instance, the difficulties which confront Western Australia in the matter of shipping freights are not the product of this Parliament or, indeed, of the Australian nation; they are difficulties imposed on Western Australia by the owners of the various shipping lines.

Mr Prowse - The difficulties have been caused by this Parliament.

Mr CALWELL - I suppose that the honorable member refers to the Navigation Act?

Mr Prowse - Of courseI do.

Mr CALWELL - The provisions of that act were suspended in respect of Tasmania. If it were right to adopt that course in one case, I cannot understand why the honorable member has failed to secure a similar suspension in respect of Western Australia. The solution is to be found in the re-establishment of an Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers to serve distant parts of Australia. In this country, there are two economic centres, one in Sydney and the other in Melbourne. Until the power of the rings that control economic centres is broken, the distant parts of the Commonwealth will never develop as they should.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon W M Nairn - Order! The honorable member's remarks are not related to the bill.

Mr CALWELL - Then I shall return to the subject by discussing the position of the less populous States, and the matter of grants. I have supported the remarks of the honorable member for Richmond generally, and there is not a great deal more that can be said, except that so long as we allow the present position to remain, we shall have to provide annual grants of this nature. The solution that the honorable member for Richmond suggested is the correct one. I do not agree with the action of the Government in reappointing Sir George Pearce to the Commonwealth Grants Commission. In my most charitable mood, I think that it was an outrageous blunder to appoint a man who has so antagonized the workers of this country that hardlya trade unionist in any part of Australia has a good word to say for him. When the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) half-redeemed his fame by destroying the Bruce-Page Government, Sir George Pearce supported Mr. Bruce's attempt to abolish the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! References to Sir George Pearce do not come within the scope of the bill.

Mr CALWELL - But Sir George Pearce was recently reappointed ' a member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. When can I speak my mind about him if I am prevented from doing so on this bill? I repeat that 1 strongly disagree with the appointment. There are hundreds of men who are in every way better fitted than he to serve on the commission. In fact, any one of hundreds of good supporters of the Labour party should have been preferred to Sir George Pearce. However,he will remain a member of the commission for a period of three years, and the principal work of that body will continue to be done by the chairman, as it was done in the past. In that capacity, Sir Frederic Eggleston rendered excellent service, as did his predecessor; and probably Professor Mills will be equally efficient. I can see no virtue in the reappointment of Sir George Pearce, and I deeply regret that the Government acted as it did. The reappointment of the right honorable gentleman will be repudiated by many thousands of Labour people, and for my part I, too, disown it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time and reported from committee without amendment or debate.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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