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Tuesday, 8 March 1904

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - COOK. - The honorable member can form his own opinion; I am simply pointing out' that this statement is wide of the facts:

Mr Webster - The slandering of the Commonwealth is responsible- for the position* of affairs.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I trust that, in good time, we- shall hear the honorable member; meantime- his interjection does not irrevocably settle the question* I am merely pointing out that there is a change, both in the tone and the attitude of the Treasurer, as compared with the position taken up by him' several months' ago. The action taken by the Government in tacking on the ques. tion of old-age pensions to the readjustment of the Federal and' States finances is the most- novel proposal of which I have ever heard. I contend that the Government should deal with a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions without reference to any of these other matters, or they should let it alone. The principle should stand on its merits,' and should not be degraded by being made conditional upon the enactment of some other principle of party policy. The Government are either in a position to deal with the question of old-age pensions or they are not. How do they know when this transformation in our finances will take place? It seems to me that the Treasurer could have had nothing whatever, to do with the framing of this proposal, because he himself has told us that these debts could only be converted as they mature. That would take twenty years, and by this process they hope to obtain sufficient money to finance a system of old-age pensions for the Commonwealth.

Mr Glynn - We have also to remember that it is proposed to continue the " Braddon Blot," which the late Prime Minister said stood in the way "of a Commonwealth system of old-age pensions.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Quite so. I say, therefore, that this careful padding of the Governor-General's Speech with matters which are obviously fatuous does not help the position of the Government when we come to consider their proposals as business propositions;

Mr Fisher - Would- not the honorable member support the imposition, of direct taxation by the Commonwealth in order to provide for old-age pensions?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We already have a system of old-age pensions in New South Wales,, and there we. also have direct taxation. The honorable member should interrogate not me, but the Government, in regard to this matter. The power rests with the Government, and he should ask them, what they are prepared to do. I shall allow the question of the carriage of our ocean.' mails to stand over for- the present. All that. I have to say, in: the meantime, is that many statements, pro and con- have been, made upon this important question which are very wide of the mark, and do not. represent the true position. I shall, wait, for- the definite proposals of. the Government, and those proposals should be their- justification or their condemnation!. If by means of a poundage rate they can. successfully provide for the carriage: of: our mails, without interference with the commercial relations, of the country,, they will accomplish a good stroke of business; but upon them alone rests the onus of showing that they can. I would point out,. in passing from this subject, that but little time remains for the Government to ' take action. Under the old order of things* it was considered that, at the very least, two years' notice should be given to these huge shipping companies to make the altered arrangements necessary under new conditions of contract; but we now find ourselves within, nine or ten. months of the- termination of the existing contracts, and nothing yet accomplished. What is to be done, therefore, should be done quickly. I shall await with the greatest interest a declaration of the decision of the Government. When that declaration is made, they will be judged upon their proposals; but until then I, for one, shall not condemn them.

Sir John Forrest - Hear, hear.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why does the right honorable gentleman smile so knowingly ? I presume he is thinking of that Conference-

Mr Deakin - He thinks it a happy reformation that the honorable member should propose to hear us first and strike us afterwards.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The right honorable gentleman is thinking of the Con.ference we held, at which two of the greatest opponents of the proposal that black labour should be excluded from, our mail ships were the present Minister for. Home

Affairs and the Postmaster-General. They were invariably the two dissentients from the proposals which were made in this regard; they always argued that the Empire required the employment of black labour.

Sir John Forrest - I do not think that I said anything about the question.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I suppose the right honorable gentleman is thinking of the change which has taken place in his attitude.

Sir John Forrest - When did I make the statement which the honorable member attributes to me?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The right honorable gentleman will find it set out in the reports of the Conference. I admit that those reports were condensed; but if the statement is not to be found in them it is, at all events, imperishably embedded in my memory. I well remember the almost fierce attitude taken up by the Ministers I have named whenever the question was brought forward. They invariably dissented from the proposal that we should not subsidize ships which carried black labour.

Sir John Forrest - I do not remember that the question ever came forward.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In these circumstances I presume that it is- fitting that the right honorable gentleman should smile at my very brief reference to this question. I shall leave the other matters touched on in the Governor- General's Speech until we are called upon to deal with them as business propositions. Meantime, the speech, so far as I am concerned, is eminently unsatisfactory. I think that the present position of parties in this House - including the present declarations of leaders - is altogether unsatisfactory; and the sooner something definite is done the sooner will there be a more satisfactory state of affairs. . The sooner something of a definite character occurs, so that the party issues in the House may be re-defined, the sooner shall we be seeking the real and undivided welfare of the country, and be helping to achieve those reforms which the people desire.

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