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Tuesday, 20 October 1903

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - I trust that the Senate's amendment will be accepted. The provision should not have been inserted in the Bill in the first instance.


Mr CONROY - The chief reason is that under the Constitution we have no power to alter the limits or boundaries of any State, without the consent of that State, and another reason is that the Federal Capital must be within a State. However objectionable these sections of the Constitution may appeal-, they have to be observed.

Mr Isaacs - How does the provision in the Bill offend against those sections of the Constitution ?

Mr CONROY - Because the Bill extends the Federal territory to the River Murray - to outside the boundary of the State. The Bill alters the boundary of the State, or, at all events, does not confine the Federal territory within the State. I am inclined to think that, to a large degree, the amendment extending the boundary of the territory was inserted for the purpose of expressing disapproval of the delay in introducing the Bill.

Mr Watson - It was inserted because honorable members believe in the Bill.

Mr CONROY - If so, honorable members could not have taken a more efficacious way of showing disbelief. Every honorable member knew that the effect of the amendment would be to prevent the Bill being carried - that the Bill would be inoperative without the consent of the New South Wales Parliament.

Mr Watson - Only a second-rate lawyer would express that opinion. Lawyers are not justified in making any such presumption.

Mr CONROY - It happens to be a presumption of law which amounts to a certainty. The honorable member for Bland speaks of "second-rate lawyers," but I am sure he cannot have heard the opinions expressed on the point by very many eminent members of the legal profession in New South Wales and Victoria. In my opinion, there should have been no such constitutional stipulation as to the locality of the Federal Capital. The Constitution might, of course, be altered ; but, at present, we are trying to do indirectly something which certainly we have no right to do. It was a perfect farce to put this provision in the Bill.

Mr Fisher - Does the honorable and learned member hold that to extend the Federal territory to the boundary would be an alteration of the boundary of the State?

Mr CONROY - I do ; the Commonwealth territory would become practically a new State, the control of which would pass from the former State. According to the Constitution the boundary of a State can be altered only with the consent of the Parliament of that State and the approval of the majority of the electors.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - To take an area of 100 square miles would just as effectively alter the boundary of the State.

Mr CONROY - If the 100 square miles were selected at the border, the boundary of the State would be altered or diminished, contrary to the Constitution.

Mr Watson - Except as provided in section 125.

Mr CONROY - It cannot be said that "in the State" means on the boundary of the State.

Mr Watson - The boundary is not in any other State.

Mr CONROY - But if a piece be cut out of a State at the border, the boundary is altered and the piece cut out is not within the State.

Mr Skene - Suppose the boundary of the Federal territory be extended to the sea ?

Mr CONROY - The boundary of NewSouth Wales extends three miles from the shore.

Mr McDonald - But do the New South Wales people not claim the River Murray as being within their State 1

Mr CONROY - We have provided in the Bill for something which ought to be a matter of negotiation, and which must be obnoxious to any Government with whom we have to deal. The word " should " has not altered the " stand and deliver " attitude, and it is unworthy of the Federal Parliament. It seems as though some honorable members are quite ignoring the terms of the Constitution.

Mr Isaacs - How else has Parliament to express its views 1

Mr CONROY - A compact was made as to where the Federal Capital should be ; and here I cannot help saying that, in my opinion, it ought to have been one of the great State capitals. Without the amendment, it would have been much easier to treat with the New South Wales Parliament, which, after all, has to consent to give up the territory.

Mr Watson - That is a matter of opinion.

Mr CONROY - When honorable members declare that they do not intend to consent to the proposal of the Senate, simply because they desire that no decision shall be arrived at this session, I admit they have a good deal of reason on their side. Even those most in favour of having the question settled as soon as possible must admit that a moribund Parliament is hardly the body which ought to effect a settlement. I cannot help blaming the Government for the present position ; but if it conies to a vote I shall approve of the reasonable alteration suggested by the Senate.

Sir William Lyne - The Senate has proposed to take land of almost the same area.

Mr CONROY - Under the circumstances no conditions ought to be made as to the boundary. That is a matter for negotiation ; and the action of Parliament, if the provision be retained, must considerably hamper the Prime Minister in his dealings with the Government of New South Wales.

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