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Friday, 22 May 1936

Senator COLLINGS (QUEENSLAND) . - This is one of the most interesting parliamentary problems that has arisen since I became a member of this chamber four years ago, and I take this opportunity to tell the Government that I shall make it my business to let the people of this country know what kind of Government they have at Canberra. I shall remind the manufacturers that they cannot count on some of the elected representatives of the people to stand to their pledged word, made on the floor of either branch of this legislature. I shall also tell the people engaged in our secondary industries clearly that, in this Parliament, they have no champions upon whom they can rely except those who form the Opposition in both chambers, with a few very honorable and courageous exceptions in the ranks of members, who, in ordinary circumstances, are not opposed to the Government. In the House of Representatives, I regret to state, the number, of courageous exceptions dwindled to almost undiscoverable dimensions yesterday. This is a very serious matter. In this Parliament there are some, not all allied to the Opposition, who take their duties seriously; men who believe that, as the elect of the people, they should not declare allegiance to a principle merely to retract it later in certain circumstances. We all know what has been going on since, in the House of Representatives, duties on cement were imposed against the wishes of the Government. We all know, also, what happened before that vote was taken. Because of the large numbers of people employed in it and its importance from a defence point of view, the .cement industry is of national interest. Not long ago these duties had a much wider interest, for we had the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom telling the Government, or if not the Government, the people who, all too often, govern this country - the members of our chambers of manufactures and commerce, and of our constitutional and other semi-political clubs - where they "got off". As a result, the Government whip has been cracked over the heads of its supporters. There has been a scurrying to and from party rooms ; meetings have been held at hours convenient and inconvenient, and the waverers among Government supporters were dragooned into voting for the ministerial proposals when the cement duties were under review in the House of Representatives yesterday.

I have said in this chamber on other occasions, and I now repeat, that the real governing institution in this country is not this democratically-elected Parliament, but those people who are behind the scenes. It has been asserted that the cement duties imposed in the House of Representatives were a. definite breach of the Ottawa agreement. We all remem- ber Senator Foll, for whom I have the greatest personal regard, but whose attitude in this matter is beyond my comprehension, pleading with the Government not to do anything that would harm this important Australian industry. We all remember, too, how the Minister in charge of the bill (Senator A. J. McLachlan) chided the honorable gentleman for even suggesting that the Government should do anything that might interfere with the sacredness of the Ottawa agreement. And after Senator Foll had been admonished by the PostmasterGeneral, the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) entered the chamber at the psychological moment, and, with telling dramatic effect, put over the " sob stuff ", again reminding us of the sacredness of the Ottawa agreement, and declaring that surely we could not lay unholy hands on such a document. I was almost expecting the right honorable gentleman to go to the length of another honorable senator on a former occasion and speak to us about those " great, grey, silent shapes that steal into the harbour in the dawn and which, alone, are the real protectors of Australia." Some honorable senators said that those controlling the industry are exploiting consumers aud their employees to such an extent that the protection afforded under the tariff should be removed; but even that- was of no avail. Now, however, the whips have been cracked most effectively, the industry is to be thrown to the wolves, and the employees and their families are to suffer. I now ask the Minister if the Commonwealth Constitution is the supreme instrument in this country, and if an agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and another country can override the Commonwealth Constitution?

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