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Wednesday, 10 September 1902

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) (AttorneyGeneral) . - The Message which has just been read calls for no motion on my part. But the remarks which you, Mr. Speaker, havemade, are my first justification for saying that having hastily perused its contents they appear to me to contain a great deal of unnecessary particularity, which may be intended as a courteous response to the Message from this House, but which cannot in any way, whatever may be the intention, affect our position or that of the measure. No doubt, when we pass, as I hope we shall, the joint standing orders to which you, sir, hare alluded, the form of Messages will be considered. In the meantime,I do not altogether regret that there should be some special form chosen for a special class of Bills ; that is a circumstance which has a twofold bearing. I may be permitted, without repeating the congratulations, mainly personal, offered an evening or two ago, to congratulate this House on the conclusion of the longest, most arduous, most complex, most difficult, and most important task that any Parliament in Australia has yet attempted. At its conclusion, none of us are entirely satisfied with the measure as it stands, but we all recognise that it is the result of unprecedented devotion to parliamentary duties - of honest work of many months' duration, spent in the endeavour to perfect to the best of our power, and according to our divisions of opinion, the task that was intrusted to us. I desire to say no more with regard to the Tariff as a Tariff, but may remind the public how much, beyond the Tariff imposed, this measure actually means. It now fixes the 8th of October of last year as the date of the imposition of uniform duties; and thus supplies the fundamental financial foundation of the Commonwealth. From that all-important date the several chief periods limiting our powers commence to run. We were required by the Constitution to pass a Customs Tariff within two years, and Parliament has fulfilled that task. In sections 89 and 93 of the Constitution the imposition of uniform duties is made the dividing-line between two slightly different systems of accounts. Under section 90, from the same date, the power to impose duties of customs and excise becomes absolutely exclusive, and the power of the States to legislate in regard to them absolutely ceases and determines. Trade, commerce, and intercourse are from that date throughout the whole of this Commonweal th absolutely free.

Mr Watson - After two years.

Mr DEAKIN - After two years of taking accounts. I am happy to say that the Minister for Trade and Customs is about to introduce a ; new and very much simpler certificate covering all Inter-State transactions, providing nothing more than is absolutely necessary for the statistics of commerce, and for the adjustment of InterState accounts. Inter-State free-trade will practically begin from now. The date from which the five years period of our limited financial powers begins is the8th of October last. The complex calculations for the reduction of the Western Australian duties also commences from that date.,

Mr Mahon - Is that not illegal?

Mr DEAKIN - No; not in my individual opinion.

Mr Mahon - Did the Supreme Court not so decide ?

Mr DEAKIN - The Victorian Supreme Court decided that until the Act was passed no duty was legally imposed, but that was all. In a few days the first year of the special period allotted to Western Australia will have expired. The date now fixed by the Act of this Parliament is, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say, the real beginning of the Commonwealth. It does not mark the entrance of the Commonwealth into its full power, but it marks the time from which it commences gradually to acquire the ample authority intrusted to it by the people. " Finance is Government and Government is finance." The hands of the Commonwealth are tied to a large extent for five years from that date. But now that it has been fixed, we escape much of the indefiniteness of outlook, and many of the doubts, legal and constitutional, hitherto besetting us. From this moment we may begin to exercise by degrees the larger powers and more independent sway vested in Parliament by the people of the Commonwealth.

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