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Thursday, 4 June 1903

Mr POYNTON - Did not the Premier of Victoria say so 1

Mr KENNEDY - The peculiar fact is that the Premier of Victoria, speaking in the State Parliament and also on the public platform, claimed the right of Victoria to divert every drop of water which fell on Victorian territory.

Mr Batchelor - That is a large order.

Mr KENNEDY - I am not saying whether the Premier was right or wrong. I am merely telling the honorable member what he said. After making that assertion here, he went to Sydney, and actually gave away the rights of the people - rights which had been created under an Act of Parliament - to the use of water for irrigation purposes. I have been associated from my boyhood with farming and grazing in the Murray Valley, and I know something of the conditions which exist there. Had the recommendation of the commission been carried out there would have been a possibility of very materia] development, not at the expense of the Commonwealth.

Sir Langdon Bonython - But at the expense of South Australia.

Mr KENNEDY - No ; at the expense of the States concerned.

Mr Kingston - Was not our share to be the dry channel 1

Mr KENNEDY - No. I shall tell the right honorable gentleman what I and others who are not representatives of South Australia think about the matter. Unfortunately we are still imbued with that parochial spirit which, shortly prior to federation, induced some of the States Parliaments to load up some of the departments that were about to be transferred, in order as they thought, to pass on the baby to the general taxpayer of Australia. In dealing with large measures of common concern - measures affecting the people of more than one State - we seem to be still imbued with that spirit.

Mr Kingston - If I object to a man taking my watch, does that show a parochial spirit 1

Mr KENNEDY - No claim is made either by Victoria or New South Wales to the use of the whole of the waters of the Murray. What is claimed is that sis the Premiers submitted the matter to the best available authorities, the report given by those authorities should have received some little consideration.

Mr Batchelor - It was not a unanimous report.

Mr KENNEDY - I am aware of that. But it was a report by gentlemen who know more about the matter than does the Premier of any one of the States. I wish to point out the effect of the agreement arrived at by the Premiers. We have on the Goulburn River in Victoria an irrigation trust which was formed some years ago, and in connexion with which there has been some £500,000 expended in the resumption of lands and the construction of weirs and water channels, and other works. After expending a very considerable sum of money in experimenting with irrigation, we are now obtaining some return for our outlay. During the last two or three dry seasons people have realized the true value of water for irrigation purposes, and, as the result of that experience, have continued to impress upon the Premiers of the States concerned the desirableness of coming to some agreement with respect to the use of the waters. It was this agitation that first gave rise to the Corowa conference. A scheme was promulgated by the people of Riverina under which it was proposed to expend about £500,000 in constructing a weir at Bungowannah, together with other waterworks, to divert a volume of water sufficient for stock and domestic supplies over an area of 3,000,000 acres, and to irrigate about one-twelfth of that area. The diversion works were to be a joint enterprise on the part of Victoria and New South Wales. The water to which Victoria considered it was entitled - and the report of the engineers supported the contention - would have supplied a vast area. But, as a result of the agreement arrived at by the conference of Premiers in April last, these schemes must be abandoned. For at least twelve or fourteen years there has been a Trust district in existence on the Goulburn River, where we have now almost perfected our irrigation arrangements. But if the Premiers' agreement be ratified by Parliament, the Trust will not be able to divert a single drop of water from the Goulburn for the proper supply of that district. Under one of the provisions of the agreement 150,000 cubic feet of water per minute has to be sent down the Murray to the eastern boundary of South Australia. As a matter of fact, the gaugings taken by the Water Supply department show that in many years there is not a volume of 120,000 cubic feet per minute flowing along the river at that section ; but as soon as the supply at the eastern boundary of South Australia drops below 150,000 cubic feet per minute both Victoria and New South Wales will be debarred from using the water. Thus, it is an absolute certainty that the agreement, if carried out, would not .only deprive the contemplated works of their requisite supply, but would actually cripple those works that are already in existence. It is for this reason that I am urging the Prime Minister to give some attention to the matter. In support of my contention that the ratification of the proposals of the Premiers would not only prevent the States of New South Wales and Victoria from entering into new irrigation schemes, but materially interfere with works which have been in existence for a considerable number of years, I will quote the report of an interview with a gentleman who was at one time at the head of the New South Wales Department of Water Conservation - a gentleman who was very eminent in his profession, arid knew exactly what lie was speaking about -

Mr. H. Or.McKinney, speaking of the decision of the conference of Premiers in regard to the River Murray question, said that the demand made hy South Australia in regard to the waters of the Murray and its tributaries had been from first to last extraordinary. In the proposed settlement of the claims of the three States, the quantities of water allotted to South Australia had been proportioned to its demands, rather than to any legitimate rights. Navigation, which South Australia -was so desirous of protecting, was chiefly navigation on New South Wales rivers. Practically what New South Wales had been asked to do was to sacrifice the interests of a large area of lands in the central and western divisions in order that South Australia might derive benefit from a precarious trade on the western rivers of this State.

I have already referred to the feeling which seems to exist between .the Premiers of the States and the Prime Minister in regard to matters of mutual concern. The following quotation will illustrate my remarks -

The Premier (Sir John See), in replying to adverse criticism on the agreement entered into with respect to the allocation i of the Riiver Murray waters, and the assertion that South Australia had got the advantage of the other States, said that the whole matter resolved itself into this : that had some compromise not been arrived at, the conference would have been discredited, and the question of the River Murray waters would have possibly led to litigation in the Supreme Court, and finally, in an appeal to the Privy Council, causing endless delay in carrying out many good irrigation and water conservation works.

Practically the same opinion was expressed by the Premier ofVictoria. To my mind, all these Premiers, in agreeing to let the decision of this matter wait over for five years, instead of determining the respective rights of the States at the present time, are anxious to follow the line of least resistance, notwithstanding the fact that the question must eventually be dealt with, and that the sooner it is settled the better for all parties concerned, because the experience of many years has shown us that the development of the interior is impossible without the conservation of flood waters and their use by means of irrigation works. Mr. Irvine's remarks also illustrate what I have said about the feeling which exists between the State Premiers and the Prime Minister -

Mr. Irvinealso dealt with some remarks made by Sir Edmund Barton, Prime Minister, in reference to the work of the conference. "I am rather surprised," he said, " at a statement attributed to Sir Edmund Barton. He is reported to have said - ' The Commonwealth Government could not consent to any of theresolutions which appeared to dispute the powers which the vote of all Australia, with the indorsement of the Acts of Parliament, had conferred upon it in matters which were by the Constitution handed over to the Federal Government. I am not aware that there is anything in any of the resolutions which tends to dispute or question any such powers-

Sir Edmund Barton - I did not say that there was. I rather guarded myself in that speech against saying so.

Mr KENNEDY - Mr. Irvinecontinues - certainly it was not the intention of the Premiers to do so. Their intention was to bring respectfully under the notice of the Federal Government certain matters in which the exercise of its constitutional powers would be beneficial, in their opinion, to the whole of the States. "

When matters of public concern affecting both the States and the Commonwealth proper arise, it would be much better if, instead of speaking in the press of difficulties which may be merely creatures' of the imagination, the heads of the various Governments would come to close quarters with the Prime Minister and arrive at some understanding. It is our bounden duty, if the Constitution has given this Parliament the power, or we can obtain it from the States, to deal with the question of the rights of adjacent States in the waters of the rivers which flow between them.

Sir Edmund Barton - The question would first have to be referred to us by the

Parliament or Parliaments of any State or States concerned.

Mr KENNEDY - I wish to draw attention to the matter publicly so that consideration may be given to it. Peeling on this subject is very strong throughout the northern districts of Victoria and the southern and western districts of New South Wales, because their future prosperity depends upon the early settlement of the question. There is one other matter to which I wish to refer, and it is connected with the oversea mail contracts, and concerns the interests of a large number of the producers of Australia. Of late years I have had a more intimate knowledge of the conditions of the producing interests of Victoria than of those of the other States, and for that reason my remarks must seem to apply more particularly to Victoria, though I think they are of equal application to the other States. The subsidy paid to the companies whose steam-ships carry our oversea mails has been about £90,000 a year for some years past. Practically all we get for that contribution is the regular carriage ofour mails to and from Great Britain and intermediate ports. But prior to 1899, and in the early days of our export trade in perishable products, an agreement was made between the Government of Victoria and the steam-ship companies - and I believe that similar agreements were made in the other States - which required them to make certain provision for the conveyance of perishable products. After a considerable amount of experimenting, that trade developed very largely, until it became seriously affected by the drought. But in or about the time of the inauguration of the Federation the agreement I speak of was allowed to lapse. Now, it has been the hope of the producers of Victoria and, no doubt, of those of the other States, that, as soon as one authority was in a position to enter into an agreement of this kind for the whole Commonwealth, they would obtain much better conditions. Last season, which was not a favorable one, the export of butter, fruit, mutton and lamb in the carcase, and rabbits from the departmental freezing works and cool stores in Melbourne, was something like 25,000 tons. But in. dealing with the steam-ship companies in their individual capacity as producers, or through agents, our people feel that they are not in a position to obtain the terms to which they consider themselves entitled. The charge for the transport of butter, for instance, which is entirely in the hands of the mail-boat companies, is £7 per ton, or -|d. per lb. from Melbourne to London, a price which those in the trade term a prohibitive one. Although there has been a considerable increase in the volume of trade, there has been no reduction in rates for some years past. I therefore think it is incumbent upon the Federal Government, now that an opportunity is afforded by the expiration of the mail contract, to enter into an agreement, upon the renewal of the mail subsidy, for the transport of perishable products under better conditions and at lower rates. The export of perishable products is a trade which is yearly increasing in volume, and in which the whole of the States are concerned. Furthermore the interests of the producers are everywhere identical. In the matter of the export of fruit, we have now arrived at the stage when fruit can be sent to the London market with some degree of certainty that it will arrivein good condition. But the freight on a 40-lb. box is as high as 4s., or more than Id. per lb., which shippers from whom I have made inquiries, term an extortionate charge. I ask the Government to give some attention to this matter. I do not intend to traverse the many statements which have been made by the various speakers during this debate. Some of the issues which have been raised are more suitable for discussion from a public platform at the approaching elections. The old question of free-trade and protection has been revived, but I think its resurrection is due to the fact that free-traders wish to make themselves a decent suit in which to appear before the electors, and so they are using the shroud of a body which I thought was decently buried after the last debate on the Tariff. The view which I take in regard to what has been said about the administration of the Alien Restriction Act, is this : Severe criticism has been hurled at the Prime Minister because at the dictation of the socialistic party he refused admision to the famous six hatters. As I understand the situation, the Prime Minister was in duty bound to refuse permission for the landing of these men until certain conditions had been complied with. Some honorable members have apparently lost sight of the fact that after representations were made by the labour unions, and by what has been designated as the socialistic party, the Prime Minister saw fit to admit the hatters. It has also apparently been forgotten that another batch of men, who came here under exactly the same conditions, were allowed to land immediately upon their arrival, simply because steps were taken with respect to them which should have been taken in regard to the first six hatters. I do not claim to be exonerated from my share of the responsibility attached to placing the Immigration Restriction Act upon the statute-book. When I voted for the provision under which the six hatters were first refused admission to the Commonwealth, I knew as well what its effect would be as I know to-day, after all the discussion and all the criticism which has been passed. When notice of the amendment was given by the honorable member for Bland my mind reverted to an incident of twenty years ago, and it was with a view to prevent a recurrence of anything of the kind that I decided to support the proposal. In the Lachlan and Darling districts of New South Wales friction which had existed for some years between the squatters and the shearers culminated in 1878 in what was known as the Mossgiel strike. The squatters tried to obtain the upper hand, and the shearers fought them as well as the conditions would permit. The squatters endeavoured to fill their sheds by engaging shearers in Victoria and Tasmania, under contracts made in those States. These shearers, who were good and capable men, and were perfectly familiar with the conditions obtaining in the western districts of Victoria and in Tasmania, knew nothing of the circumstances in which they would be placed in New South Wales. When they arrived on the stations representations were made to them that the}' could not shear with advantage under the conditions to which they had agreed. Many of the men, however, in spite of this, went to work, but before a week was over they raised objections, and a strike was the result. That occurred in 1S79 or 1880. The records can be found in the Hillston Police Court, because some of the shearers spent in the gaol there the time which would otherwise have been occupied in shearing at Gunbar Station. Some of the contract men, however, completed their shearing under police surveillance during I the whole time. That was the case that was in my mind, and which impelled me to support the amendment of the honorable member for Bland. If the Act is administered, as I believe it will be, in the spirit in which it was passed, it is not likely to prevent any one who comes here with a legitimate object from entering the Commonwealth. I think that the Minister for Trade and Customs has, by his reply to his critics, effectually dispelled those shadows, which, according to the press reports, have been hanging over his head for a considerable time. I think he is to be commended for the line of action he has adopted. I remember distinctly that when the Customs Bill was submitted to the House it was stated by the Minister that, from the information obtained through the Customs officials, the States had been losing something like £750,000 annually through leakages. That was not a desirable state of affairs, and as I thoroughly appreciate the difficulties which confronted the Minister in bringing about various necessary reforms, and in securing uniformity of practice, I warmly congratulate him upon the great work which he has achieved. No one will question his honesty, or his integrity, and although there may have been a few cases of hardship, the general policy pursued by the Minister must have exercised a salutary effect upon the trading community generally and have resulted- in gain to the Commonwealth. I think it will be admitted by those who have had any experience, that there is a limit to what Parliaments can do in any one session, and I do not suppose any honorable member will be beguiled into believing that it is possible for this Parliament, however strenuous may be its efforts, to pass all the measures foreshadowed in the Governor-General's speech during the next few months. I feel confident that some of the most important of them will be passed into law, and I trust that in the administration of these measures, Ministers will be as fearless as they have been in carrying out the provisions of the Acts already on the statutebook.

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