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Wednesday, 3 September 1902

Mr WATSON (Bland) - I regret that I cannot vote for the motion of the Acting Prime Minister. Although I have from the inception of the consideration of the Tariff endeavoured to keep in view the desirability of avoiding a contest with the Senate, and bringing the matter to a conclusion as early as possible, so as to allow business people to know under what conditions they will have to cany on their enterprises, and have therefore on many occasions sacrificed my view as to the rates of duty which should be imposed, I think a period has come when we must cease to attempt to obtain harmony by continuing to sacrifice our opinions. I admit that the position has been ably stated by those who object to the motion on constitutional grounds, but I do not base my opposition to it wholly upon those grounds. As a layman I am not competent to express an opinion as to the exact interpretation which should be placed upon that section of the Constitution which governs the relations of the two Houses in regard to Money Bills, but the contention of the honorable and learned 'member for Indi, which is supported, strange to say, by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo who intends to take an exactly opposite course, appears to me to be the correct one. That the Senate may return a Bill with requests for amendment only once at any particular stage of its consideration, seems to me .to be the correct interpretation of the Constitution, and I cannot understand the attitude of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, who, while he not only admits, but asserts that the .view taken by the honorable and learned member for Indi is correct, tells us that he is prepared to make use of the ladder which the Government have provided to enable members of this House to climb down from an awkward position.

Mr Ronald - It is a matter of expediency.

Mr WATSON - It may be, but those who, like the honorable member for Bendigo, think that we shall get another opportunity to maintain the position which it is open to us to maintain now are very much mistaken. The Acting Prime Minister has told us that we shall be able to get the constitutional issue decided when dealing with the standing orders. Does he think that there will be enough vim behind any proposal in regard to the standing orders to cause honorable members to go to the country upon it 1 Will a difference of opinion in regard to the standing orders appeal to the great masses of the electors as a sufficient excuse for a contest between the two Houses? They will laugh at us for our pains, and probably elect other men in our places.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the honorable member anxious to go to the country '?

Mr WATSON - No, but I am prepared to do so if necessary in support of my principles, as I and other members of the labour party did in New South Wales in 1S95, in support of a measure introduced by a Government in which the honorable member held a portfolio, and after we had been only twelve months in Parliament. I am prepared to go to the country now rather than to concede to the representatives of minorities of the people equal power with us in regard to measures dealwith taxation. That is the whole point involved. The fact that the Senate is a House representing minorities may be cloaked by a reference to it as the States'

House, and to the State rights which are supposed to be entrusted to its keeping, but it still exists. Those who representminorities of the taxpayers are asking for equal powers with this Chamber with regard to the imposition of taxation. I intend to oppose at every opportunity which presents itself the contention that they have a right to do so. I fought the issue in New South Wales at some risk of my own seat, but I am prepared to take the risk again in defence of the position now. The Acting Prime Minister said that the special circumstances in which we now find ourselves are not likely to be repeated. He has referred to the two-year period within which the Tariff has to be passed, and has stated that if we push matters to extremes we may exceed the limit. I do not know that, as a matter of practice, there is any great argument underlying this statement, because, whilst it is desirable from all points of view that the Tariff should be settled within two years, or even before the expiration of that time, what penalty can follow the non-observance of that particular condition ?

Mr Deakin - None.

Mr WATSON - None at all. It seems to me, therefore, that whilst that provision should have weight with us - and I dare say it was considered by many of us during the past few months, when we endeavoured to secure reasonable compromises upon matters in respect of which we otherwise should not have yielded - it should not operate in our minds in comparison with the broad question whether this House or the other is- to mould 'the taxation of the country. The honorable member for Wentworth sĀ°aid that the mere fact of our reception of the first Message from the Senate, and our consideration of it, item by item,- deprived us of the opportunity of declining to receive the second Message. The honorable member argued that "we had given away the whole case by accepting the first Message, but I differ from that view, because, as I understand it, we were constrained to receive that Message by the exact terms of the Constitution. There can be no possible doubt as to the interpretation of the section of the Constitution which provides that the Senate shall be entitled to make requests and forward them for consideration to this Chamber. Surely no one would argue that we should be justified in refusing to accept the first set of requests, and I do not see that the action we took in any way prejudiced the position that some of us now desire to take up. I believe that in regard to finances especially, and generally speaking in regard to the conduct of the affairs of this Commonwealth, it is not possible to carry on responsible Government with two Houses of anything like equal power. One House must be predominant; otherwise responsible Government is impossible, and as I have to choose, as the country will eventually have to do, between the two Houses, I prefer to throw in my own lot with the Chamber which represents the people in their numerical strength and taxable capacity rather than with the other House, which is said to represent the people in other aspects of national affairs. A great deal has been made of the State House aspect of this question, but I wouldask honorable members what evidence there is that the members of the Senate have not been actuated by exactly the same considerations as have the members of this Chamber in the discussion of the Tariff? There is no indication that each delegation has acted conjointly on behalf of its own particular State. There has been no question, so far as I have been able to ascertain, of any State action. Each member has been guided purely by his own convictions with regard to the incidence of taxation, or by the objections which he has entertained towards certain proposals.

Sir William McMillan - I stated that the Senate had acted in its capacity as a second Chamber, and not as a House representing the States.

Mr WATSON - I am sorry I misunderstood the honorable member. If we dismiss the question of the representation of the States in the Senate, we have to confine our attention to the point whether the Senate, as a second Chamber, is entitled to prevent the passing of a measure which the whole community has asked for, or to insist that if it is passed, it shall be in the shape desired by them, and not as framed by this House representing the people as a whole. I do not wish to labour this question, because I think it has been very ably argued by other honorable members, particularly from the legal aspect. I have for years taken the stand that there can be only one Chamber to exercise effective control over the affairs of the Commonwealth, and that, whilst for advisory purposes and in order to insure that every consideration shall be given to legislative proposals before they become law - even from that point of view there may be more justification for the view taken by those on the other side - I cannot consent on an occasion of this kind to any steps being taken which would admit the equal right of the other Chamber, particularly in matters of taxation, to control the affairs of the Commonwealth.

Mr. SALMON(Laanecoorie). - Like the honorable member for Bland, I feel that this question has been well debated from the legal aspect by those who have preceded me. As a lay member of the House, however, I feel very greatly obliged to the honorable member for having brought the matter down from the somewhat lofty position it occupied to the level of practical politics. The Constitution provides for certain methods by which the expressed will of the people shall be crystallized into statute law. It was provided that there should be two Houses, and that in matters relating to taxation one House should have the sole right of origination, and that the other House should be limited with regard to the manner in which it should deal with such measures, comparedwith laws affecting other matters. The members of the other Chamber have privileges that we do not enjoy. For instance, they have a longer tenure of office ; a tenure twice as long as that conferred on members of this House. That at once disposes of any claim that might be put forward for equal power on the part of the other Chamber with regard to Money Bills. It shows that those who drafted the Constitution, and recommended it to the people, and those who accepted it were fully aware of the vital difference between the powers of the two Houses. The otherChamber has the right to make requests with regard to Money Bills, but the power to insist upon such requests is one that cannot be held to exist. The Senate may have the right to insist upon its requests, but I do not know that any honorable member will assert that that Chamber has made amendments in this Bill. It has been stated in that Chamber that the Senate has "madeamendments," and that it has " fixed the rate of duty," but we do not admit that. The Constitution provides for the making of requests by the Senate, and for their reception by this Chamber, but it does not provide for a second message similar in character to that first sent to us. At page 671 of the Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, compiled by Messrs. Quick and Garran, the following passage occurs : -

If that House (the House of Representatives) declines to make the suggested amendment, the Senate is face to face with the responsibility of either passing the Bill as it stands or rejecting it as it stands. It cannot shelve that responsibility by insisting upon its suggestion, because there is nothing on which to insist. A House which can make an amendment can insist on the amendment which it has made, but a House which can only "request" the other House to make amendments cannot insist upon anything If its request is not complied with, it can reject the Bill or shelve it ; but it must take the full responsibility of its action.

I understand that the honorable and learned member for .Bendigo does not agree with this authority.

Sir John Quick - Yes, I do. The honorable member could not have followed my remarks.

Mr SALMON - The honorable and learned member told us, as I understand, that the Senate could repeat its requests.

Sir John Quick - No.

Mr SALMON - I understood him to say that the Senate had a right at a further stage to make requests similar to those preferred in the first instance.

Sir John Quick - No, I said that they had a right to make a request a second time at the same stage.

Mr SALMON - The Senate has taken up the strong position which one of the ablest critics of the Constitution Bill, Sir Samuel Griffith, foretold. He said- and the remark is noted at page 671 of the work which I have just quoted -

A strong Senate will compel attention to its suggestions ; a weak one would not insist upon its amendments.

Mr Isaacs - The honorable member must add to that, "if you have a weak House of Representatives."

Mr SALMON - That statement of Sir Samuel Griffith afforded the first indication of what might happen. During the last few weeks attempts have been made to induce the Senate to insist upon its requests.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Sir Samuel Griffith went ofl to say that he did not see much constitutional difference between the power of request and the power of amendment.

Mr SALMON - Yes, and by his remarks upon that portion of the

Constitution, Sir Samuel Griffith showed his utter unfitness for the position of Chief Justice of the Commonwealth, which some people would like to push him into. I would ask honorable members not to throw away the rights and privileges which this House possesses under the Constitution. I was deeply pained when I heard the AttorneyGeneral read his motion. I have given more thought to this question than to any other that has occurred during the nine years I have been in public life, and it was with a feeling of grave disappointment that I found the Acting Prime Minister, departing, for the first time to my knowledge, from the principles which he has so valorously upheld in the past, and his stout advocacy of which has endeared him to the democracy of his native State. I feel that we 'are now about to take a step which we shall never be able to retrace. I. do not' believe that we can save the situation by consenting to this renunciation of the highest rights and privileges we enjoy. There is no comparison between the strength behind this House and that behind the Senate. Undoubtedly the balance of power rests with the House of Representatives, and a step which would deprive us of our strength would not only be deplorable, but should, even atthislatemoment, beprevented I only wish that I could give adequate expression to my feelings regarding this matter. I view- the motion as a. step in the wrong direction, and I fear that if it be carried we shall, in the near future, deeply regret our action.

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