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Friday, 25 June 1937

Senator E B JOHNSTON (Western Australia) . - I move-

That after paragraph (b) the following paragraph be inserted: - (ba) the effect and operation of any tariff act or other law or regulation of the Commonwealth on primary industries, revenue, manufactures or trade and commerce in any State or States.

I can see no objection to the commission conducting such an inquiry, if it is to have any real power to assist the weaker States against the repression of the tariff, or if it is to exercise the same power as the previous commission had. In the remarks made by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) last night, it would appear that I require this merely as a basis for grants to the State. It is nothing of the kind. Sub-clause c deals with that aspect -

1.   The commission shall inquireinto and report to the Governor -General upon -

(c)   applications made by any State to the Commonwealth for the grant by the Parliament of financial assistance in pursuance of section ninety-six of the Constitution;

But I want the commission to have the power to inquire into the effects of the tariff and Commonwealth laws and regulations, quite apart from the matter of grants to States. I want the commission to have this power in order that it may give relief to primary producers, or any other section of the community, in any State or States, adversely affected by the tariff.

Senator Sir George Pearce - What relief ?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Relief of the nature that the first royal commission on the disabilities of Western Australia under federation recommended in 1925.

Senator Sir George Pearce - That was monetary relief.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Pardon me, it was not. It. recommended that, by a constitutional alteration, Western Australia should have, for 25 years, control of its own tariff - I wish those who suffer from the tariff to receive real relief of that nature - or be given such other relief as might be thought fit by the Inter-State Commission after a full inquiry into the facts. It is quite likely that the Inter-State Commission, if it had delegated to it the power for which my amendment provides, would recommend, as did the Royal Commission in 1925, that Western Australia should have fiscal autonomy for a period of 25 years. Of course, if the commission had power to inquire into the tariff and other federal laws, it might evolve some remedy that does not occur to me in the hasty consideration which the committee has to give to the bill. If, however, we are going to withhold from it a power which was specifically given to its predecessor to investigate tariff matters, the whole work of the commission is going tobe rendered, if "not abortive, then of much less value to the smaller States than was the work of the previous commission, which inter alia was empowered to investigate the following : -

(d)   The effect and operation of any tariff act or other legislation of the Commonwealth in regard to revenue, Australian manufactures, and industry and trade generally.

That is a power similar to the one which I seek in my amendment. In fact, I adopted the same wording, giving prominence, however, to primary industries.

The previous commission had power finally to investigate other matters referred to it by either House of the Parliament by resolution.

Senator Brennan - That power is given to this commission in subclause g.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - I know. Power for the commission to investigate the incidence of the tariff and other federal laws at' the request of the State was given specifically in the previous act, and it should be continued in this legislation. Why not make it clear that if any State thinks that it suffers from the Navigation Act or any other Commonwealth law or regulation, it has the right to have its complaint investigated by the commission? Why should not the commission have a direction to inquire into these matters? We want something more than a general provision, which may or may not be regarded as conclusive. Yesterday, Senator Pearce tried to floor me with a Latin quotation. I am not floored, and I am not discouraged from proceeding with this amendment which is essential if the case of the smaller States is to receive due consideration by the commission. A Latin tag dug up from ministerial legal archives has nothing to do with the present and future needs of Western Australia, or with its position under the burden of high tariff protection.

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