Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 18 November 1936

Senator E B JOHNSTON (Western Australia) , - I support the second reading of the bill, but I consider that if the proposed alteration goes to the people in its present form, it will not be received with much enthusiasm in the weaker States, because of the deep-seated fear of further encroachment by this Parliament upon the powers of the States. Some of the speeches delivered in this chamber will contribute to that apprehension. It will be thought that the power asked for in this bill is greater than is necessary to achieve the object of the Government, which is to retain the orderly marketing legislation declared by the Privy Council to be ultra vires. So far as the bill is designed to preserve the present system of organized or orderly marketing, I accord the measure my support.

Senator Brennan - The honorable senator means, I presume, the system in vogue up till the decision of the Privy Council?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Yes, but I consider that the Government should confine the proposal to the retention of the system of orderly marketing, by accepting the amendment forecast by Senator Payne.

Speeches delivered in support of the bill suggest that the proposal goes much further than that. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) regards it as a considerable step towards unification. He proceeded to extol the virtues of, and explain the necessity for, a complete scheme of unification. I am entirely opposed to any movement in that direction. I listened with interest to Senator Millen, but. do not agree with him that this measure provides for a step towards unification. If I thought that the Leader of the Opposition was right in his argument, I should certainly oppose the bill. J. shall support it for reasons entirely different from those of the Leader of the Opposition. I object, to this Parliament being granted increased powers at the expense of the States, but I accept the assurance given by the Government that this bill is not intended to confer new powers on this Parliament as it will merely provide the coping stone for the legislative structure erected by the States to protect the primary producers by means of orderly marketing of their products, particularly those products that are exported overseas. One object of the bill is to assist the primary producers to retain their present incomplete system of orderly or organized marketing, and to extend it by means of legislation, enabling the State and Federal Parliaments to cooperate for the protection of the primary producers. The purpose of the bill, as explained by Ministers, is certainly to retain for the primary producers in the wheat, dairying, and dried fruits industries, or any other industry, a homeconsumption price for their products, and to enable them to obtain fair and just standards of living comparable with those enjoyed by other sections of the community. The primary producers in my own State are in a serious position, and . require a great deal more assistance than they are to receive this year, at any rate, from this unsympathetic Commonwealth Government. This condition of affairs has arisen as the result of the drought experienced in Western Australia during the last two years, causing partial, and, in some cases, a complete failure of the wheat crop in many districts, as well as a reduction of the returns from wool. The proposed alteration of the Constitution is one for all time, and is not designed to meet an emergency of the nature to which I have referred. The object of the Government justifies an alteration of the Constitution on a basis at least wide enough to safeguard the orderly marketing schemes.

A home-consumption price could be obtained by any Federal Government by means of excise duties and bounties, but at least two of the great Federal political parties are unwilling to adopt that procedure. The Labour party has continuously opposed the imposition of a flour tax and the present Government was unwilling to re-introduce it, even when it could have given substantial and urgently required assistance to wheat-farmers throughout the Commonwealth who have suffered much owing to the partial droughts of the last two seasons. The Country party, and particularly the Western Australian Country party, stands for orderly marketing and a homeconsumption price for those primary producers who have to sell in the open markets of the world and buy their requisites from the highly protected manufacturers of the Commonwealth. Orderly marketing on an Australian basis would enable the primary producers in Western Australia to share in the large local market for primary products provided by the big populations of the eastern States. This would be a very great advantage to Western Australia which exports a very large proportion of its wheat and other primary products. In Queensland, where the people consume more wheat than they produce, the farmers are the luckiest in Australia. For many years, in Victoria and New South Wales, a large proportion of the annual output of wheat has been consumed locally, and it is of great advantage to the smaller States, which have limited home-markets, to be able to share in the larger home-markets of the more populous eastern States. Seeing that Western Australia suffers manydisadvantages under federation, I shall endeavour, by supporting this measure to secure and retain that one advantage of sharing in the home-markets of the eastern States for wheat and other products.

Again I have to complain of references to the need for further powers for this Parliament. Early in his speech Senator Collings spoke of another referendum proposal for complete industrial powers for this Parliament. This would mean unification, and to the best of my ability, I shall oppose any step in that direction.

Senator Dein - The Leader of the Opposition wants a lot of things he will not get.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Several of the leading trade unions in my State, notably the Railways Union, which have access to either Federal or State arbitration awards, have confined their applications for awards entirely to the State Arbitration Court. For years the basic wage awarded by the State tribunal has been shillings higher than the Federal award. Senator Collings would have difficulty in persuading the Labour movement in Western Australia to follow him along the road to unification.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The Labour party in that State believes in unification.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - No. The greatest leader that Labour has ever had in Western Australia - I refer to Mr. Philip Collier, until lately Premier of that State - said, in an interview in the Melbourne Herald, that not only was he opposed entirely to unification, but also that he believed that unification would ruin Western Australia. There has been no effort on the part of the Labour movement in Western Australia to adopt the visionary unification schemes which are so popular in the eastern States. This measure is not a step towards unification. It sets out merely to maintain the existing marketing system and the home-consumption price, which have already been agreed to by the Commonwealth and the States.

Senator Collings - In Queensland, seventeen orderly marketing schemes are operating successfully.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - That is so; but they operate under State legislation and their success does not necessarily mean that we should proceed along the dangerous path towards unification. This alteration of the Constitution is necessary in order to retain to our primary producers advantages which they have gained only after many years of earnest co-operation and hard work in the political field.

I now present another argument on behalf of Western Australia. In normal times that State buys from the eastern States good3 to the value of £10,000,000 a year, compared with trade in the opposite direction valued at only £1,000,000 a year. It has been estimated that more than 30,000 bread-winners are employed in. the eastern States in the manufacture of goods for sale and consumption in Western Australia.

Senator Collings - The people of Western Australia do not buy those goods unless they need them. There is no philanthropy in business.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Markets are very valuable to any State. If Western Australia had the right to impose its own tariff against goods from the eastern States, it would be able to employ those 30,000 workers within its own borders, and also stop dumping from the eastern States. But as that State is unable to employ those workers loeally at present, although it hopes to do so at some future time, it is entitled at least to the advantage of orderly marketing schemes on an all-Australian basis for its produce. This measure, if agreed to by the Parliament and the people, will enable the producers of Western Australia to share the benefits of a homeconsumption price.

Senator Collings - That is the advantage which this bill offers.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - And that is why I support it. In this instance, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) and I are on common ground, although our reasons for supporting the bill differ.

I should have preferred that this constitutional alteration in relation to marketing had been confined to the marketing of primary products and processed primary products, such as foodstuffs. At one stage a proposal to that effect was considered by the Government, but because of doubt as to whether butter, flour and cheese could properly be described as primary products, the wording contained in thebill - wording which I think could be improved - was decided upon. Even if the proposed alteration of the Constitution receives the support of a majority of the electors in a majority of the States, its object will be achieved only when the Federal Parliament, under the powers granted by the alteration, passes laws complementary to the marketing schemes contained in State legislation. Such legislation will not then be open to question on the ground that it interferes with the freedom of interstate trade. The Country party in both the Federal and State spheres believes in giving a home-consumption price to the Australian farmer for that proportion of his produce which is consumed within the Commonwealth. I accept this measure as the only practical way open to me to secure that benefit for the primary producers of this country. As a States righter, I am opposed to increasing the power of the Commonwealth over the States.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - Is there any danger in that direction?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - There is danger that the alteration may be so interpreted. When I reflect that the interpretation given by the High Court to section 92 was entirely different from what appeared to be the meaning of that section, I hesitate to think what interpretation might be given the word " marketing" in this measure. Consistently with my position as a States-righter, I shall support this measure, in the interests of those who are engaged in primary production in Australia, and particularly in the interests of the weaker States whose home market is small compared with that of the eastern States. The best way to relieve unemployment in Australia is by restoring prosperity to those primary industries upon which the stability of the Commonwealth depends.. This measure is designed to preserve the present incomplete system of organised and orderly marketing, and on that, and other grounds which I have mentioned, I shall support its second reading.

Suggest corrections