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Thursday, 4 April 1946

Mr BARNARD (BASS, TASMANIA) - I do not believe that the Government will be defeated. I believe that it will be returned, and that the people will also endorse the proposals of the Government for the alteration of the Constitution.

Mr.HOLT (Fawkner) j 1.1.4.S].- Every bill that comes before this House containing proposals for the alteration of 'he Constitution should command our thoughtful attention. We should ask ourselves whether this is a genuine attempt to alter for the benefit of the people as a whole, a. Constitution framed at the beginning of this century. Applying that test to the present proposals, we must ask ourselves whether this represents a genuine attempt at constitutional reform. Are the proposals presented seriously by the Government? Are they taken seriously by Government supporters in their own party discussions? It is clear to us who remember previous1 referendum debates in this House that wi! cannot put the present proposal? in that category. Tt is clear from the apathy and indifference of honorable members opposite that they do not take seriously the bills now before us. I concur with the Leader of the Opposition ('Mr. Menzies) that this is really an election stunt. It is a "smart. Alec " election mauoeuvre, an attempt by the Government with ffive years of office, including three years of war administration, to lay a smoke screen around the issues of the coming election. It is an attempt to hide the ineptitude and extravagance of the Government, and the barrenness of its .plans for the reestablishment of ex-servicemen and the restoration, of peace-time production.

A glance back at recent constitutional developments will show what an utterly bogus performance the Government is putting up in regard to these proposals. We remember the referendum proposals of 1944, and their reception by thepeople. -At that time they were not confused with a general election, and the Government spared no effort or expense to place .the issues fully before the people. Listening to the specious argument of the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) that, by taking the referendum concurrently with an. election, certain expenditure would be avoided, I thought of the referendum of 1944. The Govern^ ment did not then bother much about' the expenditure involved. On the contrary,, it embarked on an extensive propaganda campaign at the public expense. Honorable members will recall the snide attempt of the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) to introduce furtively into his Estimates £50,000 of the Government's expenditure in connexion with referendum ^propaganda under the' dubious heading "Post-war Education". On that occasion a clear issue was put to the people on matters which the Government professed to believe were vital for postwar reconstruction in this country. The proposals then submitted to the people were decisi vely rejected ; 1,963,000 votes were cast in favour of the proposals whilst the electors opposed to the proposals totalled 2,305,000. There were substantial majorities against the proposals in four of the States, and in the two States which did accept the proposals the " Yes " majority was small. That referendum was taken apart from any election campaign, so there was no clouding of the issue. Does the Government really want these constitutional alterations? It cannot be oblivious to the fact that since the beginning of federation only three changes in the Constitution have taken place, and that two of them were of a minor nature. The third' was of a technical character associated with Commonwealth and State finances, and had the support of all parties in this Parliament and of all State Premiers. Consequently, the result, in that instance can be taken as an exception to the general proposition that in normal circumstances the people of Australia have never shown any enthusiasm to support the referendum alterations which have been submitted to them. The action of the Government in submitting these proposals to the people so soon after the rejection of those to which I have referred, and in associating them with an election campaign, shows that it does not view them seriously. Therefore, we. come back to the conclusion that this is merely an election manoeuvre. In August, 1945, just after the conclusion of the war, there was a conference of Premiers. The Commonwealth Government discussed with the Premiers of the States a number of the matters which it thought would require constitutional attention in the post-war period. Included in them were proposals submitted to the people at the last referendum, such as prices- control, the standardization of railway gauges, the continuation of tenancy legislation and regulations,, and of controls over building. No indication was then given of any need for any of the three powers which are to be submitted to the people this year, although ar that stage the Government was aware that its social legislation was likely to be challenged. It knew, too, that there would be problems in relation to industrial matters and the marketing of primary produce. We can rest assured that had the Government then believed that there was urgent need to amend the Constitution in order to obtain the additional powers sought, in these proposals it would not have failed to do something in the matter. The next development was the decision in what is known as the Pharmaceutical Benefits case, which was given in November. 1945. Here, quite clearly, we have the strongest justification for some constitutional alteration; if the validity or' legislation which had the support of all sections of the Parliament, and of all Parliaments in Australia, was challenged, as the decision in the Pharmaceutical Benefits case indicated, there was a strong case for not merely an amendment of the Constitution, but for its urgent amendment. Any government which continued to make invalid payments longer than it was entitled to make them would be guilty of the virtual misappropriation of public funds. And so I say that if the Government had wanted that matter dealt with urgently, the way to get it dealt with was to call the State Premiers together and toll them that an emergency existed and that something had to be done about it. The Commonwealth could have asked the States to refer to the Commonwealth powers to deal with the matters which are now set out in this bill. It would be ridiculous to say that there would have been difficulty in getting the State Premiers to transfer those powers. No issue easier to solve could be imagined. Let us consider the predicament in which any State government would have been had it decided not to transfer those powers to the Commonwealth. Let us imagine that four of the six States agreed to transfer to the Commonwealth power to continue the payment of social benefits, and that the Commonwealth continued the payments in those four States. Can any one visualize as a practical political possibility the Government of either of the other two States remaining in office when its citizens realized that they alone of the citizens of the Commonwealth were denied those social services? Such a Disposition does not call for discussion. If the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) had genuinely wanted to cover that emergency, he could have done ?o. Let us examine the bona fides of the Government. All parties are agreed as to" the need for giving validity to the Commonwealth social .legislation now on the statute-book. The Liberal party has indicated that in its platform. Consequently, the Attorney-General could have looked for support from all political parties for such a proposal. Bui, rather than deal with that, issue speedily, he delays it for nearly twelve months by deciding to subject the proposal to the hazards inevitably associated with the submission of Constitution amendment proposals together with election issues. Therein lies the test of the good faith of the Government in this matter. Eather than do something a: the time when the need for it was made clear - a time when there was no likelihood of opposition - the Government decided to adopt an entirely different course. And so I am forced to the conclusion that the introduction of these proposals in the way decided on by the Government is merely a clever election plan. I can imagine the discussions in Cabinet, and the chuckles at the supposed discomfiture which this move would cause to members of the Opposition. Here was an opportunity to divert our attention at election time from the host of issues which we could raise in tracing the Government's record over the last few years and to place us on the defensive as far as constitutional proposals were concerned. That may be all very well, but is it a genuine attempt to cope with the emergency which has been created by the Pharmaceutical Benefits case? I -ay emphatically that it is not. Having selected the first " leg " of the treble, as it were, caucus then had to look about for a couple of other likely " candidates ". We are not blind to the fact that each of these three bills is carefully directed to an important voting section of the Commonwealth. The unpopular items were taken along to the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, unci the support of the Premiers was gained for such measures as could be shown to be necessary. Put the popular candidates, the " likely fancies ", were held back - the delay does not disturb the Government- to be trotted out and put through their paces before caucus. Caucus had a look at them and considered how to handle them in order to secure the most, favorable election result for the Government. I gather that there was some discussion in cauas to whether the three candidates ought to be entered in one race in the hope that, even if they all failed to pass the o-f together, at least one of them mi' finish in front, or whether they should be entered in separate races in the hope Mint at least one race would be won. To switch metaphor?, the caucus had to decide whether the public should be presented with one big lolly,' in the hope that there would be enough sweet ingredients ro smother the bitter taste, or whether a *ort of thimble and pea trick should be played, inviting the public to select the thimble under which the pea was hidden. Caucus, in ifr. wisdom, decided to take tb" different issues separately. It considered that to be the safest course.

Let us have a brief look at the three proposals. I say " brief " advisedly. The Attorney-General is not unaccustomed to giving us full and elaborate statements on matters in which he is interested. If we needed further evidence of the fact that this is not a serious attempt at constitutional reform, we had it, demonstrated in the perfunctory way in which these three measures \?ere presented to the House by the Attorney-General. Constitutional amendments have never before received such short shrift from a Minister introducing them. Clearly, the right honorable gentleman was not anxious to convince the House of the necessity, for the Government's proposals. He knew that he would have a larger audience to convince later, and so his second-reading speeches were very brief. I need not spend much time in discussing the social services proposal, because I have already indicated my. view of the proper way for the Government to meet the emergency which has arisen. Why should the Minister tie up this proposal with two other controversial proposals to be dealt with in the bitter and highly charged atmosphere of a general election campaign? However desirable it is for the Commonwealth to have the powers sought - and we agree on that point - the manner in which those powers are exercised by virions governments will, from time to time, call forth criticism from Opposition parties. The Minister should have adopted the very much easier, simpler, and safer course of securing a delegation of the necessary powers from the. State parliament;.

The second bill deals with organized marketing of primary products. The Leader of the Opposition analysed "his measure carefully yesterday, and pointed out the important, differences which .exist, first, between this proposal and that which was submitted by' the Attorney-General in 1944, and, secondly, between this proposal and that which was submitted by the Lyons' Government in 1937. A very important difference between this proposal and the one submitted in 1944 is that the Attorney.General in 1944 had some regard for the views of the Premiers. He retained a restriction as far as the Commonwealth was concerned in respect of section 92 of the Constitution. I do not know whether his change of attitude now is due to a determination on his part to ignore the views of. the Premiers, or whether it represents a later and more careful view of what is desired. If the second explanation be correct, it raises once more our criticism of the earlier proposal, namely, that it was a slapdash affair, the weakness of which would easily be detected 'by the public. It is not necessary for me to deal with the merits of the three proposals in the same detail as the Leader of the Opposition. However, the proposals create in my mind a case in support of the argument for an elective convention to deal with constitutional issues. I believe that th,public as a whole, and probably many members of this Parliament, need a great deal of additional information and education on the problem of organizedmarketing. I admit- frankly that I need further enlightenment. I recall the fears expressed in this House after the James v. the Commonwealth decision in 1936. We. were told that chaos would occur in primary industries as the result of the decision. But no constitutional amendment was made, because the appeal to the people in 1937 failed. Up to the outbreak of war, primary industries carried on without serious detriment, despite the Commonwealth's' alleged lack of constitutional power. Although, during the period of the war, the defence power was used' in order to bolster up some of the Government's marketing schemes, I have yet to be convinced that any further power is necessary on this point. As was pointed out when the referendum proposals were discussed in this House in 1936, -there are other ways in which this Parliament can deal with the problem of price stabilization. One way is to impose an excise duty in respect of a primary inda? try which is to be organized. The other is by paying' bounties to the producers of particular commodities. Both of these methods have been adopted at different times by the Parliament. Then the Attorney-General of the day, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) pointed out that the States, by fixing prices under their own powers, could help to meet the problem. In so far as these methods were available then, they are available in even greater measure to-day. If, as indicated by the Prime Minister yesterday, the States transfer to the Commonwealth their power to control prices, the Commonwealth would be in a -much stronger position than before the war. I believe that the term organized marketing " requires some analysis. It is not a precise term as we all know. The Oxford English Dictionary 'uses it in a variety of ways. Its compilers use it with reference to the price of labour and in association with a number of items which one would not normally expect to come within the sort of power we envisage here. Therefore, the term itself requires a good deal of' explanation and elucidation before the public will be convinced that orderly marketing as we have understood it up to the present means only what the Attorney-General has indicated it to mean during this debate. There i.s a very strong feeling on the part of the public generally that these organized marketing schemes, as they have taken form in commodity control by boards throughout Australia, have been unsatisfactory to the great body of producers and to the consumers alike. There is a widespread impression, perhaps inaccurate in respect of some commodities, but undoubtedly accurate in respect of many others, that commodity control has in some instances brought about a. reduction of production. In every instance of which I have been able to get information it has had the effect of increasing sharply the price of a commodity to the consumer. Having regard to the vote in country districts on the marketing proposals submitted to the people in 1937 there is good ground for believing that many producers and people generally are not satisfied with organized marketing as we know it under the commodity board system. I have listed some of the commodities already controlled by boards. The list, which is by no means exhaustive, indicates how widespread these' controls are becoming. The commodities that come most readily to my mind comprise potatoes, flax, barley, wheat, field peas, tea, sugar, butter, pigs, meat, fish, eggs, onions, chicory, peanuts, cotton, and even canary seed, and last, bur by no means least, apples and pears. During the period of operation of the Apple and Pear Marketing Board, when more apples should have been available to the Australian public, the people were deprived for long periods of fresh apples, and when the board did make them available it marketed them at higher prices tha had ever been known before. One of the very strong criticisms . of the commodity board .system, as against the somewhat more clumsy exercise of the bounty and excise system, is that, under the former the prices determined arise out of discussions at meetings of the boards to which no representatives of consumers have been appointed. There is no confirmation of their decisions by a body such as this Parliament. Under the bounty and excise system the Parliament decides, after considering the advice of its experts, what rates of bounty or excise shall be applied. In the case of determinations made .by commodity boards, there is no democratic decision as to what the consumer should be called upon to pay. I do not anticipate a favorable reception by the public of the organized marketing proposals. The public, I believe, will demand more evidence of the value of schemes such as these before it will support a constitutional reform to enable them to be perpetuated.

Possibly the most interesting of the proposals to be submitted to the people is tha.t dealing with the extension of the industrial, power. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the opening sentence in the second-reading speech of the Attorney-General on the Constitution Alteration (Industrial Employment) Bill, because I believe that that speech was typical of the misleading propaganda which is being broadcast to the people in order to induce them to support the bill. The l ight honorable gentleman said - ! he object of this bill is to alter the Constitution so that this Parliament will be able, like the legislature of every State in Australia, to regulate either directly or indirectly, the terms and conditions of employment in industry.

The significant reference is the phrase, " like the legislature of every State in Australia". .The implication is that nothing can be harmful in the Commonwealth Parliament taking over a power which any State parliament is able to exercise. The right honorable gentleman knows, as do other honorable members, that there is a very big difference indeed between the exercise by a State Parliament of its industrial powers in such a way as to create conditions out of line with those obtaining in the rest. of Australia, and the exercise by the Commonwealth of power to make general industrial changes affecting the whole of the Commonwealth. -The decisions of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration have a widespread effect throughout the Commonwealth. State instrumentalities must keep in line with them, because the moment one State parliament creates within the sphere of its jurisdiction industrial conditions which are more onerous on the employer or more favorable to the employee it sets up a chain of economic events which soon brings about corresponding remedies in other directions. The only State I can recall that did attempt by legislative enactment to create conditions which were out of line with those obtaining throughout the rest of Australia wa3 Queensland, and members representing that. State well know what effect that action had upon the development of secondary industries in Queensland. If, for example, the Parliament of New South "Wales, by legislative act, established very much higher wages for employees within New South "Wales and gave them a 40-hour week at a time when Victoria maintained a lower wage structure and a longer working week, obviously there would be a flow of industries to Victoria from New South "Wales, and industrial development , in the latter State would languish. So it is utterly misleading to justify the proposed grant of power to the Commonwealth on the score that the State legislature already possess it. Then we must, ask ourselves why this power is sought. I return to my original charge that this is all a part of an election scheme. We know that we have the best and most comprehensive system of industrial arbitration in the world. We have been told that by the knowledgeable representatives of other countries, and we know it' from our own study of what takes place in other parts of the world. Yet the AttorneyGeneral is setting out to weaken the authority of the Arbitration Court, for that would be the inevitable consequence of action by the Parliament along the lines he has suggested. The right honorable gentleman himself has paid tribute to the working of our arbitration system, particularly during the war years. He said something I believe to be true when he said -

Despite the unprecedented strain which the waging of total war placed upon industry, industrial relations have been incomparably better in World War II.' than they were in World War I.

1.   think those who compare the working days lost in World War I. and World Wa r II. will reach the same conclusion. My recollection is that about twice as many working days were lost through industrial disputes in World War I. as were lost in World War II., despite the undoubtedly greater strain imposed on our industrial system in the latter conflict. Moreover, economic factors that strengthen the position of those who desire to absent themselves from work operated far more favorably owing to the shortage of labour. Yet, despite the unparalleled stresses placed upon it, the arbitration system was able to stand up remarkable well. Actually, if one takes the number of working days lost by the coal-miners - and I have pointed out before that more than 50 per cent, of the working days lost through industrial disputes were lost on the coal-fields of New South Wales - from the grand total, one finds that the record of Australian industry as a whole during the war was good.

Mr Bryson - Is the honorable member For or against the proposals?

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