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Thursday, 4 June 1903

Mr KENNEDY (Moira) - After listening patiently to the addresses of honorable members, the conclusion has been borne in upon my mind that the Government may safely be congratulated not only upon their administration, but also upon the forecast which they have given us in the Governor - General's speech. If one note has been more dominant than another in the criticisms to which they have been subjected, it is the complaint, perhaps not made directly, but voiced in an indirect way, that they have, so to speak, depleted the political wardrobe, and left the Opposition without any political attire, other than the proverbial fig-leaf, in which to appear on the public platform at the next election. It has also occurred to me that even when honorable members have trained legal minds it is often difficult for them to be logical. The "honorable and learned member for Parkes riveted my attention by the masterly way in which he dealt with his subject last evening, but even he appeared to be altogether illogical, because, on the one hand, he accused the Minister in charge of a department with playing the part of an arbiter in interpreting an Act of Parliament, whilst on the other hand he condemned another

Minister for not acting in a similar capacity. The Minister for Defence laid upon us the charge of being parsimonious, and he also made a noteworthy remark in connexion with his references to the federal capital site. He said that it was desirable that we should place the federal capital in close proximity to some striking features of Australian scenery. Anyone who has been intimate with the condition of the country during the last two years must admit that the most pronounced natural features have been river beds without water and the bleaching bones of our dead stock. Looking at the matter from that stand- point it is not to be wondered at that honorable members of this and other legislative bodies in Australia should adopt " economy" as their watch word on all occasions. They are forced into that position. I think it was the honorable member for South Australia, Sir Langdon Bonython, who credited the Government with having at all times displayed economical tendencies. I cannot indorse that statement. I could cite several occasions upon which the Ministry have been compelled only by the feeling of the House to exercise economy. For example, last session they attempted to pass a Loan Bill. It is true that the amount involved was a small one, but it represented the beginning of a bad practice. It was only the opinion of the House which deterred them from following in the footsteps of the State Parliaments by initiating a system of borrowing. While I am at all times prepared to support any expenditure that is calculated to promote the welfare of the people, I cannot vote for any proposal involving increased expenditure without being fully convinced that there is ample justification for it.

Mr Kirwan - How does the honorable member propose to keep faith with New South Wales if the federal capital be not established 1

Mi-. KENNEDY. - I have not expressed an opinion upon that matter yet, but I will address myself to it presently. First, amongst the Ministerial proposals embodied in the Governor-General's speech is that relating to the establishment of the High Court. It may be necessary to create that tribunal, and I do not say that I will not support a proposal in that direction, but I certainly will not support new expenditure to the extent of £30,000 being incurred in the establishment of a court.

Mr Deakin - Unless the honorable member is satisfied that it is a good investment ?

Mr KENNEDY - So-called good investments do not always prove to be such.. In the first instance I shall have to be convinced that our existing needs cannot be met by the States courts. Many honorable members seem to forget that the States and the Commonwealth are . composed of the same people. In each instance the taxpayer is identical. That is a fact which is too often ignored in the relations which exist between the Commonwealth and the States. Instead of the Prime Minister and the Premier of Victoria meeting each other in a perfectly friendly spirit, they approach each other through the columns of the daily press - allow the newspapers to " pull their legs " so to speak, altogether oblivious of the fact that in the meantime the public interests which should be their first concern are going to the dogs.

Sir Edmond Barton - The honorable member is at liberty to peruse any correspondence which I have had with State departments, and he will then be able to form his conclusions as to whether I have not on all occasions extended to them the utmost courtesy.

Mr KENNEDY - At a later stage I shall read certain extracts which have led mo to the opinion I have expressed.

Mr Kirwan - The State Premiers are jealous of the powers of the Commonwealth.'

Mr KENNEDY - That may be so, but the first concern of statesmen should be the public .interest, not personal dignity or matters of etiquette. The establishment of the Inter-State Commission will also involve the Commonwealth in another large and permanent expenditure. There may be a necessity for constituting a tribunal to deal with disputes of an Inter-State nature that are brought about by the operation of' differential or preferential railway rates. When the honorable member for Kalgoorlie was speaking the other evening' on the differential rates which exist in Western Australia, I interjected that the same conditions prevailed in other States. Undoubtedly they do. Of my own knowledge I can say that, from some stations in Victoria the Railway department charges residents of this State three times as much for the carriage of their wool as it does for the carriage of wool which is grown in New South

Wales. ' Other merchandise is carried under similar conditions. Secret rebates are made to individuals and to representatives of various firms. In the Railway Commissioners' report for the quarter ended December last appears a statement which is only a repetition of what occurs from year to year. It shows that rebates have been made to individuals upon rates which have already been reduced. There is no doubt, therefore, that a necessity exists for the creation of some tribunal to deal with these questions. But honorable members should not forget that under the Constitution the powers of the Inter-State Commission are restricted to some extent, and that where it can be proved that differential rates are charged for the purposes of development that tribunal would be absolutely powerless.

Mr Poynton - It could deal with cases in which preferential rates are charged. The instances given by the honorable member could not then exist.

Mr KENNEDY - At any rate they exist at the present time. In my opinion it is not necessary to incur a large expenditure in order to remedy these evils. The States are practically the- sole railway carriers in Australia, so that difficulties which confront the Inter-State Commission in America where the railways are in tho hands of private companies could not possibly arise here. Personally I fail to see why the Commission could not be constituted by the appointment of officers who are already in the State services, the cost involved being borne by the Commonwealth. All that is required is a body composed of one of the Railway Commissioners, a first-class commercial man, and a judicial authority. Officers who are already in the service could be appointed to collect evidence upon any matter in dispute, and that evidence could be submitted to the tribunal indi- cated

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - Would the honorable member allow a Victorian Railway Commissioner to sit in judgment upon a Victorian railway case?

Mr KENNEDY - Not necessarily. One man would not dominate the whole position. All disputes would be determined upon the weight of the evidence submitted. Passing to the adjustment of the boundaries of the new Federal electorates, I would urge upon the Minister for Home Affairs the necessity which exists for having the rolls posted in the different districts at the earliest possible moment. Electors will then be able to ascertain whether their names appear upon them, and, if not, will be able to get them on before the elections take place. With regard to the discrepancy which exists between the census returns and the Federal rolls, the explanation may not be far to seek. Let us take the case of Victoria as an illustration. I know that the Federal rolls show an increase of 9,000 male electors over the latest published State rolls, although the qualification is exactly the same in both cases. It is evident that there cannot have been any great amount of negligence or carelessness in the compilation of the Federal rolls. In this connexion I may mention one case which came under my own notice. Two householders in a certain district informed me that no inquiry whatever had been made with respect to the persons in their homes, and they assumed, therefore, that their names were not upon the Commonwealth roll. I suggested that probably the officers charged with making the inquiry had authentic information from some other source. Upon inquiry, I found that the names of all the persons in the homes referred to appeared upon the roll, thus proving that although the officer entrusted with the work had not made a personal visit to the houses, he had full information as to those whose names were entitled to be placed upon it. It is essential that the earliest opportunity should be given to electors to ascertain whether their names are upon the rolls, in order that they may avoid disfranchisement at the next general election. There are two other matters to which I wish to direct pointed attention. The first is that to which the honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, drew attention the other day, namely, the question of navigation and irrigation. In my judgment, one of the largest questions confronting a very considerable section of the Commonwealth is how we are to utilize the waters of our rivers. In this connexion, however, no alarm need be experienced by representatives from the other States that any financial burden will be cast upon the Commonwealth as a whole. I have no hesitation in saying that whatever financial responsibility may be incurred in respect of irrigation works on the Murray or the Darling rivers, the States which will be benefited thereby are fully prepared to accept it.

It is not a question of asking the Commonwealth, so to speak, to expend money for the benefit of one State, or a section of a State. Land-holders within these districts are prepared to accept the full financial responsibility. I do not know how far it is possible for the Federal Government to interfere at the present stage, but I should like to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that the feeling was present in the minds of a very considerable number of people that, in entering into federation, we were creating a power which might be able to harmonize the relations existing between neighbouring States in regard to joint works beneficial to both parties. The proposed transcontinental railway and the works relating to the Murray basin waters come within that category. The Constitution vests certain powers in this Parliament with respect to navigation, and I presume those powers cover the question of the navigation of the Murray and its tributaries. The question whether the necessities of navigation are to supersede the requirements of irrigation is one that should be determined by this Parliament at the very earliest moment. I think I am right in saying that the Prime Minister attended a conference at Corowa some little time ago.

Sir Edmund Barton - In March of last year.

Mr KENNEDY - -At that conference the three riparian States interested in the Murray basin waters were represented by their Premiers, and an agreement was arrived at that the whole matter of the use of the waters of our rivers should be referred to a commission, on which each of the three riparian States should have a representative. The commission was appointed, inquired fully into ' the matter, and submitted a report. The members of that commission were men in whom the Governments that appointed them had absolute confidence. They were appointed, I presume, because they were thoroughly conversant with the subject, and knew the way in which to obtain the best information. They made certain recommendations which they embodied in their report, and in April last the Premiers of the three States concerned met in conference in Sydney. Amongst other questions dealt with at that conference was that relating to the river waters - and with what result 1 The Premiers simply ignored the recommendations of the commission ; they threw the commission's report into the waste-paper basket, and formulated a proposal of their own, which they propose to ask their respective Parliaments to ratify.

Sir Langdon Bonython - The report of the commission was unfair to South Australia.

Mr KENNEDY - That is the extraordinary feature to which I propose to refer. I have already mentioned that it was the aspiration of many federalists that the Federal Parliament, when created, should be able to determine issues of this character, that wherever conflicting interests like these existed between two or more States, the Federal Parliament, acting for the whole of the people of the Commonwealth, should be able to determine what was best in the interests of all concerned. As to the constitutional rights of South Australia, I am not going to offer any opinion. The Premiers threw the report of the commission into the waste-paper basket and formulated proposals of their own, which they are going to ask their Parliaments to ratify.

Sir Langdon Bonython - The South Australian representative on the commission entered a protest against the report.

Mr KENNEDY - He dissented from the finding of the commission. I have some knowledge of the conditions which prevail over the greater portion of the Murray' valley, and I venture to sa)' that the proposals formulated by the conference of Premiers will not be ratified either by the Parliament of New South Wales or that of Victoria. I believe that the position will be as it was. South Australia will not have sufficient water for navigation purposes during a considerable portion of the year, and irrigationists in New South Wales and Victoria will be retarded in their operations for some years to come. If the agreement is ratified, it will not only debar the people of New South Wales and- Victoria from entering into further irrigation projects, but in many seasons it will leave irrigation trusts which have already been established in Victoria without a drop of water.

Mr Batchelor - They have at present under way all the schemes that it would be possible to carry out for the next five years.

Mr KENNEDY - No. That is another creature of the imagination of the pressman who, to use a colloquialism, sometimes " pulls the legs " of the people.

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