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Wednesday, 3 September 1902

Mr HUGHES (West Sydney) - I desire to say a few words on this matter ; otherwise my action may be misconstrued. We have heard at considerable length very admirable dissertations upon the constitutional phase of the question. It is quite unnecessary for me, if I were able, to traverse the arguments : I need do no more than simply agree or disagree with them. We are asked by virtue of this motion to affirm that this is not the time to enter into a constitutional struggle, but that we shall write across the motion the words "without prejudice" and settle the items of the Tariff on their merits. First of all, I say that we cannot write " without prejudice " across such a motion. I quite agree with the honorable and learned member foi1 Corinella, who said that it would be impossible to refer this question to the committee on the joint standing orders, and expect the members of the committee to keep out of their minds the fact that on the first occasion when this House had an opportunity to defend its liberties or its privileges, it put that opportunity aside and deliberately accepted peace. If I thought for a moment that any of our privileges were in question; I should vote against the motion, but I firmly believe that the Senate is acting quite within its rights. I do not believe that any of the men in New South Wales who voted against the Bill, or half of those who voted for it, had any doubt in their mind that the Senate was to have, except as to mere quibbling of terms, exactly the same power as the House of Representatives in all matters. The honorable member for Wentworth described, during the referendum campaign, in colloquial terras the difference between a request and an amendment as the difference between "tweedledum and tweedledee." We have heard some eloquent and learned dissertations upon the construction of clause 53. But how is it construed by the people of the country 1 Undeniably it was said by the leader of the Government, by the leader of the Opposition, and by the leaders of the federal party throughout Australia, that one of the essentials of federation was equal representation in the Senate, in order to safeguard the interests qf the States as such, as opposed to the interests of the majority of the people as such. Is there any State interest more important than the financial interest ? We have heard from the Treasurer and from the Minister for Trade and Customs - not once, but hundreds of times - that the solvency of the States is the crucial point in the Tariff. These Ministers say that we have entered into certain honorable and onerous obligations, and that they intend to meet those obligations. And no one denies that position. Are we to say that the Senate is to have the power only to make requests and asks us to accept them and no more? According to the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, if we " think fit " we may accept the requests, but if we do not " think- fit," then the Senate is to be placed in exactly the same position as that occupied by the Legislative Council of a State Parliament. If any man had dared to. stand up and tell the smaller States that the Senate had only such a power, the Constitution would never have been accepted. The smaller States were told that the Senate was to be a safeguard to them, and in the larger States - at any rate, in New South Walesa - the chief objection to the Constitution was that the Senate had equal power with the House of Representatives, the only difference being in the form of words in which the power was expressed. Now, however, we hear that " at any stage " means that the same request can be made only once at any stage. I might, if I were inclined to quibble, ask what is " a stage." Is there a special meaning, or is the meaning that which -all men commonly attach to the word ? Is that not a stage in a Bill when one House receives a measure, deals with it, and sends it out of the House? If that be the meaning, then, according to what we have heard, the Senate has the-power to request amendments at every stage. Whether that be so or not, the Senate, which is quite as well able as this House to determine its powers under the Constitution, has a perfect right to its opinions. Senators believe that the section means what two-thirds of the people in New South Wales believed it to mean - what the head of the Government and the head of the Opposition in their Sydney Town Hall speeches, and throughout Australia, told the people it meant - namely, that the Senate has actually the same powers as the House of Representatives. We have been, told that there is a great difference between the power of request and the power of amendment. But the difference is merely in the manner in which the question is put from the chair ; it is a verbal difference. It is contended that the strong, stable Senate, which was to safeguard the interests of the States, is to be reduced to the pitiable position of a humble suppliant, instead of occupying the position of a body of equal power. If that view bc correct, then the Senate has no more power than has the Legislative Council of New

South Wales. The Legislative Council can make suggestions - they cannot convey them by messages to the other House, it is true - on the floor of the House, and every honorable member of the other House who reads the newspapers knows that he has to accept those suggestions, or face the consequences of a total rejection of a measure. In 1894-5 the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales were not told by message in so many words what the Legislative Council wanted ; but there was ringing in the ears of the members of the Lower House the fact that, unless they agreed to the suggestions made, they would have on their shoulders the responsibility of a rejection of the measure then under consideration. The Legislative Assembly took that responsibility, and asked the country to decide. Are we now to be told that the Senate has. no more power than the Legislative Council 1 If that be so, then all the arguments for a second Chamber in a federation fall down helpless. There is no real reason for a bi-cameral system, or no reason why equal representation should be enshrined in the hearts of the federation, if the Senate is to have no more voice than a Legislative Council. But the Senate exists, so we are told, by virtue of a totally different principle. Whether the bi-cameral system be essential or not, if we consult Bryce, or any other constitutional authority, we see that the system is a constant attendant on federation. There are no instances which I can recall, in which the bi-cameral system has been departed from in modern times ; and in nearly every system an approximation has been made to equal representation. We, in New South Wales, were told that without equal representation the smaller States would not enter federation, and the chief reason was financial. We are continually told that the smaller States must have money, and now it is sought to rob them of the right of saying what shall be the revenue of the country. It is true that The immediate question before us may be of small moment, but it might have represented millions or meant the difference between insolvency and entire bankruptcy in two or three of the States. Yet it is sought to take from the Senate all but the power of making one set of requests which Ave, as we "think fit," may accept or reject. If an appeal were made to the people on the point, I do not think there could be a doubt as to the result. I do not care whether or not an appeal is made. I, like many others, do not want one. The honorable member for Bland, who has taken rather an extraordinary attitude, says that he is prepared to go to the country and fight this matter out ; but I am sure the honorable member could not do so consistently. He was one of those who, like myself, went up and down " like raging lions '"' telling the people that the Senate had this power, and begging and praying them, in consequence, to reject the Constitution. How could the honorable member go back to the country, and tell the people that the Constitution he begged them to reject is now to. be modified, not in a constitutional manner by them, who made it, but because it suits his political purpose for the time being? I have explained my position, and the reason why I intend to vote for this motion. I think I have set down very clearly that in voting for it, I by no means admit that this House prejudices any of its privileges, now or hereafter. I have said, I think with sufficient emphasis, that the position of the Senate is, in my opinion, unassailable, under the Constitution as it now stands. I would only, in conclusion, remind those honorable members who take up another attitude so strongly, and whoassert that the Constitution does not give the power to the Senate on this particular matter, that in the State of ,New South Wales, at any rate, the people were assured to the contrary by us, and by others, that they deliberately accepted this measure, and that it has to stand now until some provision is made under the Constitution for an amendment. I would remind those again who are prepared to accept the Constitution, and the power of the Senate with regard to all other matters than money matters without protest, that, under this Constitution, whether by their refusal to vote for this motion, or by any other means, an appeal could be made to the country, which would have the result of preventing the Senate insisting upon these particular amendments, by the return to this House or to the "other House of a sufficiency of men pledged in a different direction, so far as the Tariff is concerned. That course or any similar one could have no effect upon the power of the Senate in respect to other measures, or indeed to this particular class of measures. What these gentlemen propose to do by their action is nothing more nor less than to make of this constitutional question a political one. It may serve for the time being party purposes, or political ends, but it can have no lasting effect, if any at all, upon the constitutional phase of the question. I say, for my part, that there is a way, which, while it is not simple and expeditious in its application, is yet the only one that may be taken, for the satisfaction of members of this House and of the country, and with certainty, and that is an appeal for an amendment of the Constitution. If this Constitution gives powers to another place which results in a power being given to a minority of the people equal to that given to the majority, that I say is an inherent defect of the Constitution, which can be remedied only by an appeal to the people under the provisions set down in the Constitution.

Mr. HIGGINS(Northern Melbourne).I should like to bring the matter nearer to the concrete. The debate has taken a wide range, and the matter has been discussed with a due sense of the importance of the crisis.

Mr Wilks - But is there a crisis ? That is the .point.

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