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Thursday, 8 July 1915

Senator BAKHAP - When the sitting was suspended, I was referring to the improper frequency with which the principle of the referendum is being used. I pointed out that the proposals contained in these Bills had, with perfect propriety, been put before the electors in 1911, when they were rejected by an overwhelming majority. With less propriety - seeing that they were submitted at a general election - they were again placed before the electors in 1913, and were again rejected.

Senator Gardiner - By a very small majority.

Senator BAKHAP - By a substantial majority, and by a majority of the States. The same set" of proposals was resubmitted for parliamentary consideration within six months of the date of their second rejection by the people. In consequence of the large Labour majority in this chamber they were then sent down to the other branch of the Legislature, where the Government of the day properly refused to put them before the country. In 1915 we find the Administration once more desirous of referring these proposals to the people. I say that this is a prostitution of the principle of the referendum, and I would point out that, if these measures are rejected in December next, as they may be, notwithstanding the optimism of my honorable friends opposite,we have no assurance that the decision of the electors will even then be regarded as final. The Labour party, by its constitution, will be urged to again and again submit these proposals to the people, in the hope that through very weariness they may be impelled to exclaim, like the stoic Zeno at the call of death, " Why do you thus importune me*? I obey thy summons." There is a very strong degree of probability that the proposals will not be accepted by the people.

Senator Stewart - We hope that they will be adopted.

Senator BAKHAP - There are reasons for assuming that they will meet with a fate similar to that which they met on two previous occasions.

Senator TuRLEY - Do not prophesy.

Senator BAKHAP - I do not. But I know that many persons who have hitherto supported Labour are determined to turn down these proposals. Personally, I will not be in the least surprised if the result of the forthcoming appeal to the electors is as decisive as it was in 1911.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator is talking rot.

Senator BAKHAP - The event will show whether my anticipations are based on reason or not. I am not enamoured with the idea of continually submitting proposed amendments of the Constitution to the people. I am in favour of imposing a condition which will prevent the resubmission to the electors of any constitutional amendment which has been once rejected until a period of eight or nine years has elapsed.

Senator Guthrie - Why not make the period fifty years?

Senator BAKHAP - Our Constitution is comparatively a" thing of yesterday. Its masonry, so to speak, is yet green. Before the people can have any proper appreciation of the differentiation between purely Federal functions and State functions, they are being asked to adopt proposals which in many essentials will completely destroy the sovereign functions of the States.

Senator Ready - The time is not ripe.

Senator BAKHAP - The time will never be ripe for the destruction of the Federal edifice which was created with so much care only a few years ago.

Senator Stewart - It is a very old house now.

Senator BAKHAP - It is nothing of the sort. The speech delivered by the Vice-President of the Executive Council in moving the second reading of this Bill has rendered my task comparatively easy. He focussed our attention upon the intentions of the Government, and thus enabled us to see the cardinal objective of the Labour party in resubmitting these proposals. I well remember an American professor, who was not very much of a philosopher, and who was engaged by the Labour party in 1911 to go through the Commonwealth and to advise the people to adopt the referenda proposals. 1 allude to Professor Mills.

Senator Russell - Does the honorable senator say that he was " engaged " ?

Senator BAKHAP - Yes. His services were availed of by the Labour party.

Senator Guy - Who "engaged" him?

Senator BAKHAP - In some instances he charged for admission to his meetings. Did he not speak in Tasmania under the auspices of the Labour party?

Senator Guy - But he was not " engaged " by that party.

Senator BAKHAP - I know that the Hon. W. M. Hughes addressed a gathering at which Professor Mills was present, and he said that the objective of the referenda proposals was to enable the Government to fix prices. The VicePresident of the Executive Council, in discussing these measures this afternoon, practically confined his remarks to that objective. He refrained from a reference to any other purpose on the part of those supporting these measures than the desire of the Labour party to fix prices. The honorable senator did not analyse the measures. I am prepared to admit that, as so many honorable senators have spoken upon them, they probably consider that a close analysis of them at this stage is not necessary. Nevertheless the Vice-President of the Executive Council practically confined himself to urging upon the Senate, and through it, upon the people of the Commonwealth the advisability of giving the Commonwealth Government power to fix prices a t this juncture.

Senator Turley - The Minister said to prevent exploitation.

Senator BAKHAP - What is the alleged object of the power to fix prices if it is not to prevent alleged exploitations ?

Senator Millen - Does Senator Turley say that the object is not to fix prices?

Senator Turley - No, I do not.

Senator BAKHAP - The basis of the whole, set of these proposals is the intention of the Government to fix prices, and judging by the remarks of the VicePresident of the Executive Council, in introducing this Bill, all the rest may be regarded as leather or prunella. The statement of the honorable W. M. Hughes, when these proposals were firstsubmitted to the people, to the effect that the main object of the Labour party in" submitting them was to secure the power to fix prices, is emphasized and accentuated by the remarks which have fallen today from the Vice-President of the Executive Council.

Senator Gardiner - I say that we want to fix the people who fix the prices.

Senator BAKHAP - My honorable friends want to fix prices. I have not the slightest hesitation in denouncing the Administration as traitorous to the truly Federal idea in making these proposals. I have, with considerable emphasis and directness, stated that I was one of those who assisted in a humble way to bring about the consummation of Australian nationality fourteen or fifteen years ago. I remember that the main objects of the National party at that time were to secure a complete system of national defence and complete Free Trade between the different States. We wanted Free Trade, and we believed we had secured it by adopting the Commonwealth Constitution. I am satisfied that the people as a whole practically paid no attention at all to the representations of those who took the platform at that time in connexion with the other functions of government which it was proposed to vest in the National Administration.

Senator Turley - The honorable senator is speaking only for Tasmania.

Senator BAKHAP - No ; I was in New South Wales at the time. I voted in New South Wales, and not in Tasmania, for the acceptance of the Commonwealth Constitution. I was in the very thick of the campaign in what was regarded at the time as the most antiFederal State. The main arguments used to induce the people to adopt the Commonwealth Constitution were based upon the desirability of instituting InterState Free Trade, and a national system of defence. In connexion with the war, the Governments of certain of the States have taken what I regard as emphatically un-Federal action. The New South Wales Government commandeered the whole of the wheat harvest of the State, and in South Australia the State Government interfered in connexion with commercial transactions between residents of that State and residents of Tasmania. The present Labour Administration of the Commonwealth, for the moment, forgot themselves, and made an attempt to carry out their administrative duty. They lodged a plaint against the State of New South Wales which went before the Inte'r-State Commission, and was subsequently adjudicated upon by the High Court. Unfortunately for the true Federalists of the Commonwealth, the High Court handed down a decision reversing the decision of the Inter-State Commission, and held that the Government of New South Wales had not abrogated their right to acquire any property or commodity within the State, and that their power to do so had not been alienated by the terms of the Commonwealth Constitution. The High Court decided, therefore, that the wheat grab by the New South Wales Government, although obviously antiFederal, was quite constitutional, from the stand-point of the sovereign rights of the State of New South Wales. I am against monopoly in any shape or form. I believed that the institution of InterState Free Trade would counteract the disturbing influences affecting Australian commerce in the shape of the various State Tariffs. Every Federalist believed that by the adoption of the Commonwealth Constitution, perfect Free Trade between the States had been secured.

Senator Senior - Did not the present Government uphold that position?

Senator BAKHAP - The present Government brought a plaint against the New South Wales Government, but when the High Court reversed the decision of the Inter-State Commission, they refused to carry their plaint to the Privy Council. They stopped dead, and in utter negation of their own action in bringing that plaint, they instigated the State Government of Queensland to seize the sugar crop of that State, an act absolutely similar in character to that of the Government of New South Wales in seizing the wheat crop, and possibly only because of a flaw in the Federal Constitution.

Senator Gardiner - There is this difference, that the whole of the people of the Commonwealth will benefit proportionately and equally in the distribution of sugar.

Senator BAKHAP - I shall show presently that it is in the highest degree probable that the people of .the Commonwealth will not benefit by that action at all. I say that- it is administratively perfidious that the Commonwealth Government should challenge the action of the Government of New South Wales, and, almost before the ink with which the decision of the High Court was penned -was dry, should instigate the State of Queensland to perform a similarly unFederal act.

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