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Wednesday, 24 June 1903

Mr WATSON (Bland) - I did not speak upon the motion for the second reading of this Bill, and I refrained from discussing it in Committee to any extent until yesterday afternoon, with the view of economizing time. It seems to me that we have so' much work to perform this session, and so little time in which to ' do it, that it is necessary for honorable members generally to curb their natural desire totake part in the discussion of all measures, if we are to transact the business on the notice-paper. At the same time, since the honorable member for Parramatta has misinterpreted my action, it is perhaps right that I should definitely state my attitude in regard to this Bill. First, I may say that I desire to see a High Court established. I wish to see the constitutional provisionsunder which we are working interpreted by an Australian Court, instead of being leftto the decision - whether right or wrong - of a number of gentlemen who are far removed from Australian sentiment, and whohave no conception of the conditions under which the Constitution was framed. , I donot object to honorable members entertaining a contrary view, though I deplore their lack of patriotism in suggesting that we arenot able to interpret the laws which weenact.

Mr Poynton - No one has made thatstatement during the debate.

Mr WATSON - That, however, seems, to me the natural inference which is to bedrawn from the statements of a number of honorable members. Surely it will not besaid that Australia is in such a parlous condition financially that we cannot afford tokeep a few Judges.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - That is whatthe newspapers think.

Mr WATSON - It is undoubtedly whatsome of them think, but I am glad to know that there are a good many journals in Australia which express quite a contrary opinion. I should be sorry to think that we have arrived at such a position that we; are afraid to carry out our natural inclination to establish a court of which we might be proud, simply because of the few pence involved. The object for which I am striving will be sufficiently met by the establishment of a court having appellate jurisdiction, and therefore exercising control on appeal over matters affecting the Constitution. So long as that is secured, I am satisfied.

The CHAIRMAN - I must ask the honorable member not to discuss that matter.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member for Parramatta declares that I have supported the Bill in the form involving the greatest expenditure. As a matter of fact, I took the same side as those who were prepared to vote in favour of a reduction in the number of Judges from five to three. I further took the ground that it was not a proper thing to allow the High Court original jurisdiction in matters other than those set out in section 75 of the Constitution. Surely my action in this connexion was in accord with the desire to establish the court as economically as possible, consistently with its exercise of appellate jurisdiction upon constitutional questions. Dealing with another aspect of this matter, I notice that one of the daily newspapers, anxious to bolster up its own side of the case, compares my attitude upon this question withmy advocacy of fair conditions and the payment of a minimum wage to private employes.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They have been praising the honorable member for two years, and it is about time they criticised him.

Mr WATSON - I am not concerned overmuch with either their praise or their blame, but my attitude towards this Bill certainly appeals to my own conscience in a different light from that which they have presented. I am with the honorable member for Wentworth to this extent : that we can make no sacrifice which is too great to insure that the High Court Judges are placed above the possibility of temptation as far as is necessary. If the question resolves itself into one of choice between good men who might be subject to temptation, and others who are of second-rate ability, I say that we should not hesitate to make any sacrifice to secure the services of the best men. Therefore I regard the matter of the appointment of the High Court Justices, and the conditions under which they are to remain in office, as being quite apart from the conditions which apply to civil servants generally. I regret, as much as does any one, the creation of the pension system which has obtained in the various States in the past. I have always denounced it as calculated to work great injury. But on the present occasion the question to be considered is one as to the conditions under which we can secure the best menavailable, and notone as to the conditions that should apply. It is not a question of whether we are justified intrinsically in paying a certain salary to a certain individual. When the. late Mr. Eddy was imported from England to manage the New South Wales railways, I was of opinion that the salary paid to him was an enormous one ; but I have since come to the conclusion that, if another Mr. Eddy could be found, it would pay that State to give him £10,000 a year rather than continue the second-rate administration which prevails at the present time. I am not particularly concerned with the question of a pension as such. I look at the matter in the light of what obtains in the States to-day, and in the light of what we are prepared to offer to attract to the High Court either some of the States J udges or men of equal calibre. I do not care whether they receive their remuneration by way of pension or of increased salary, so long as that result is secured. I dare say it could be secured by providing an adequate salary. The honorable member for Parramatta spoke of the position taken up by the present Chief Justice of New South Wales. He pointed out that that gentleman accepted office after having at first refused to do so, and as the result of pressure brought to bear upon him for some time. But the honorable member omitted to emphasize the fact that Chief Justice Darley assumed office under terms similar to those which were originally embodied in this Bill. He was to receive a salary of £3,500 a year, combined with a pension upon which he could retire after having served a certain period, or upon becoming incapacitated.

Sir Edmund Barton - The pension represented seven-tenths of his salary.

Mr WATSON - Therefore the argument of the honorable member for Parramatta has no weight.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, it has ; because the whole of the pension rights accruing to him under those conditions would not represent the difference between his official salary and the income which he derived at the Bar in one year.

Mr WATSON - That may be so ; but still it is certain that whilst the conditions obtaining amongst the legal fraternity are such that the best men can earn enormous incomes, every pound by which we whittle away the salary or emoluments of the Judges will make it increasingly difficult for us to secure the best possible talent. That is the only point that I wish to emphasize. I am not in favour of the payment of high salaries as such, but I am prepared to pay anything within reason in order to obtain the best class of men for the High Court.

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