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Wednesday, 9 March 1904

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) - I am afraid that the interest in this debate has to some extent died out. So many subjects are covered by the speech of the GovernorGeneral that no honorable member can be expected to deal with more than a few of them; but there are one or two which I regard as of the utmost importance to the State which I represent, and upon which I should like to speak from the Tasmanian stand-point. There seems to have been a disposition on the part of honorable members to find fault with the manner in which the recent elections were conducted. Of course, every honorable member must speak for his own State ; but it is only fair to say that, so far as Tasmania is concerned, the preparation of the rolls and the conduct of the elections left very little to be desired. It must be satisfactory to those who had the management of affairs in Tasmania to know that, although the system was new to them, and they had the work of enrolling the whole of the women of the State to undertake, in addition to having to conduct the elections in accordance with regulations differing entirely from those hitherto followed there, errors were much fewer than might have been expected. About the only irregularity which occurred was the omission of a deputy returningofficer at a very small centre of population to sign his name on the ballotpapers. Honorable gentlemen will pardon me if I place before them the Tasmanian point of view in regard to the proposed Navigation Bill, to which reference has been made, and which is of the utmost importance to the island State. I am in complete sympathy with the representatives of Western Australia in their objection to any attempt to apply the " common rule " to the whole of the Australian coastal trade, because it would work grave injustice, not only to Western Australia, but, to a greater degree, to Tasmania. The great aim of those who are interested in one of the chief industries of Tasmania - an industry which in the very near future will probably be the principal industry of that State - has been to encourage competition for freight amongst steamship companies from abroad. The example set by the people of Tasmania in opening up theEnglish market by exporting their apples to London is such as might well be followed by producers elsewhere. Those engaged in the fruit industry in Tasmania have not asked for protection, for bonuses, or for State assistance of any kind. They have at their own expense developed a very large export trade to England. This season some twenty.-seven steamers will take away upwards of 300,000 bushels of apples from Hobart. Next year the export of apples will amount to 500,000 bushels, and before five years are over the quantity sent away will be upwards of 1,000,000 bushels. The growing of apples in Tasmania is confined almost wholly to the electoral division which I have the honour to represent, and speaking on behalf of those engaged in the industry, I say that if it would embarrass the Government to place in the mail contracts clauses providing for accommodation for the conveyance of fruit or other produce, we can do without them. We have opened up our own export trade without State assistance. But, having done so, we also say to the Government - "Do not interfere with the trade; hands off our export trade." It will materially affect the export of apples from Tasmania to England if the Navigation Bill is so framed as to prevent any steamer from taking, say, 1,000 bushels of apples from Hobart to Western Australia.

Sir John Forrest - I do not think there is any export of apples from Tasmania to Western Australia now.

Mr McWILLIAMS - No; becausethe Western Australian regulations shut out cur fruit, and some of the other States, by similar methods, endeavour to the best of their ability to prevent Inter-State free-trade.

Mr Fisher - New South Wales, the great free-trade State, is the worst offender in that matter.


Mr McWILLIAMS - The chief sinner is Victoria. In this State wharfage or primage dues, amounting to 5s. per ton, are levied upon potatoes.

Mr Tudor - Are not similar rates levied at Burnie, in Tasmania?

Sir William Lyne - Yes.

Mr McWILLIAMS - If that be so, I hope that steps will be taken to have them removed. Until all such restrictions are removed, we cannot have Inter-State freetrade.

Sir John Forrest - In Western Australia we are afraid of the codlin moth.

Mr McWILLIAMS - A proper system of inspection would prevent the introduction of codlin moth into Western Australia. Besides, fruit exported to such a distance would not be likely to contain codlin moth. The Commonwealth should try to develop trade between Tasmania and States having warmer climates. Our object should be to secure, by means of Inter-State free-trade, the fullest interchange of the products of the temperate and tropical climates within Australia. Honorable members may hear with some surprise, that there is at present no direct communication between Tasmania and other Australian ports than Melbourne and Sydney. If we wish to ship to Adelaide or Brisbane direct, we cannot do so; our produce must be transhipped at Melbourne or Sydney. Surely our difficulties and disadvantages are a sufficient handicap upon us without adding to our troubles. At the present time, although two companies send steamers to Tasmania from Australia, there is practically no competition between them. I ask honorable members who know more of the coastal shipping trade of the' mainland than I do, what competition is there among the shipping companies here ? There is such a thing as - I must not say a combine - but an arrangement between the shipping companies that they will not trespass upon each other's preserves, and if the Navigation Bill is carried, we shall simply create a monopoly and further handicap the producers of Australia. As one honorable member has stated, we shall place our own producers at a disadvantage for the benefit of the shipping companies. One of the greatest curses in America has arisen from navigation legislation such as that now proposed to be introduced here. The moment that we throw the whole of our export trade into the hands of the Australian shipping companies, we shall encourage the creation of a trust. There would be no competition, and the whole of the shipping and producing interests of Australia would be placed within the control of such rings as have arisen in America. It would be absolutely preposterous to prevent residents of Tasmania from proceeding to Melbourne or Sydney by the large steamers which visit their ports for the purpose of conveying their exports to the mother country, and to insist that they should travel 130 miles overland to Launceston and take steamer there in order that they might pay tribute to the shipping rings of Melbourne, Adelaide, or Sydney. If the Navigation Bill is passed, I hope that Western Australia will secure exemption from its provisions until railway communication has been established with the eastern States, and that Tasmania will be similarly freed from the operationof the law until she can enjoy the advantages of railway communication with the mainland. Speaking seriously, this is a subject of the utmost importance to us as an island State lying 12,000 or 13,000 miles from the market which we are now opening up. England is the only market we have for our fruit, particularly for our apples, and I would ask honorable members to think very seriously before they further handicap the State which to-day is making the greatest financial sacrifice for Federation.

Mr Mahon - But the people of Tasmania have the money in their pockets instead of in the Treasury.

Mr McWILLIAMS - No, they have not That is one of the greatest mistakes made by those who have not grasped our financial situation. What would be the position of Victoria and New South Wales if Federation had caused either State to lose 30 to 33 per cent. of its Customs revenue? When it is stated that Tasmania has lost , £150,000 of Customs revenue, the amount does not seem very large to those States which have been accustomed to deal with much more pretentious figures, but perhaps it may help honorable members to realize the position when I say that we have lost practically one-third of the whole of our Customs revenue. What would be the position of Victoria or New South Wales if they had been subjected to a similar loss?

Mr Poynton - Is not the money which has been lost to the Treasurer still left in the pockets of the people?

Mr McWILLIAMS - No, it is not. Prior to Federation Tasmania levied duties under its tariff wholly and solely with the object of obtaining revenue. It was impossible to obtain the required amount without incidentally affording protection in some instances, but the whole object of those who framed the Tariff was to obtain revenue, and they derived from the people a larger proportionate amount than was contributed by the residents of any other State. Under Federation an alteration has been made in the incidence of taxation. Whilst some of those articles which formerly yielded a large amount of revenue are admitted free protective duties have been placed upon other goods. The Government of Tasmania are not receiving the same revenue that they did before, and the people are not deriving any compensating advantage. Owing to the loss of revenue from Customs duties we have had to impose an income tax, which, I believe, is the heaviest in the world. We also have to bear the burden of the heaviest of land taxes, both for local and State purposes, and yet, in spite of all this, our Treasurer is in financial difficulties. I thoroughly indorse the statement made here to-day that, whatever may be the policy of this Parliament, it is our bounden duty, during the first few years of our existence, to regulate our legislation in accordance with the necessities of the smaller States. We are thankful to the Treasurer for the consideration which he has from time to time shown to us. Reference is made in the Governor-General's Speech to the necessity for economy, and with that sentiment I am thoroughly in accord. When, however, I look for some manifestation of the economical spirit I fail to find it. We have established a High Court of Australia. I do not wish to reflect upon the action of the previous Parliament, but I think that it is now almost universally conceded that the Federal Parliament was premature in its action with regard to the creation of that tribunal.

Mr Deakin - That is not the opinion of any one who knows.

Mr McWILLIAMS - What I do know is that the gigantic intellects of three of the best men in Australia are now occupied in settling issues of a most trivial character.

Mr Deakin - They will decide during the present week one of the most important matters that has ever been dealt with upon this side of the world.

Mr McWILLIAMS - That is the question, whether the. Deputy PostmasterGeneral of Tasmania should affix a duty stamp to the receipts which he gives when receiving his salary. If that is a matter of sufficient importance to tax the gigantic intellects of the High Court, then I am sorry for them.

Mr Deakin - If it were not settled by the High Court it would have to be remitted to the Privy Council.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It would have been farbetter to allow it to go to the Privy Council than to saddle Australia with a High Court which has nothing to do.

Mr Deakin - There are eight cases now awaiting their decision in Sydney.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The case upon which they are now engaged is one which involves the decision whether it is in accordance with the law to make the small mark opposite a candidate's name within the square, outside the square, or across the line of the square.

Mr Deakin - That is a matter of great importance to the men for whom the electors vote.

Mr McWILLIAMS - There is nothing in such a case to necessitate the appointment of a High Court, with all the paraphernalia surrounding it. I grant that, according to the Constitution, it was neces sary to create a High Court, but there is no reason why we should not have secured the services of some of the States Supreme Court Judges, who would have been just as capable, and commanded as much confidence, as the present High Court Judges. It is proposed that we should have a High Commissioner, but I do not see the necessity for having Australia so represented in London at the present time. We are to have an Inter-State Commission, for which there is no urgent need. It is also proposed to construct a railway to span the enormous tract of country between the settled portions of South Australia and Western Australia - a line which will have nothing to carry. Then we are to build a Federal Capital in the wilds of the bush, where no one will live. I think that it is time that the whole of the circumstances of the States should be considered. I have been sorry to hear the desire expressed that we should carry on here exactly the same kind of fight that was waged in the early days of the United States. I can clearly foresee that the real division of parties will come about when the fight commences with regard to the question of the unification of the States, when we are required to decide whether the Federal Parliament is to play the part of Aaron's rod and swallow up the whole of the States Parliaments ; whether those bodies are to sink into the position of provincial councils; or whether the whole of the sovereign rights of the States are to be maintained. During the early days of the American Federation, Hamilton and others realised that it was necessary, in the best interests of the Union, that strong States Governments should be maintained ; that it would not be to the best interests of the country to centralize the whole of the power in the Federal Government. Centralization is always costly, and, under such institutions as we have, would be a huge mistake. For one, I do not wish to see the rights and powers of the States in any sense detracted from. No greater mistake could be made in the earlier days of our Federation than to whittle away, or to in any way belittle the rights and powers of the sovereign States.

Mr Poynton - That could only be done with the consent of the States.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It might be undesirable to exercise our powers to the fullest limit. I think that we are proceeding too fast, and that many mistakes were made by the last Parliament. The Postal and Defence Departments were taken over too soon, and we are now endeavoring to dispose of a number of important subjects, of which Australia has not realized the full significance. No greater mistake could be made than to commit Australia to the selection of a site for the Federal Capital.

An Honorable Member. - That is in the bond.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I know that it is in the bond ; but I should like to glance for a moment at the circumstances under which that bond was entered into. They were creditable neither to New South Wales nor to "Victoria. New South Wales said that she would not enter the Federation unless she had the capital. "Very well," said Victoria, "you shall have the capital, but it shall not be in Sydney." And because of the childish and silly jealousy which existed between these two great States it is proposed to saddle the whole of the Commonwealth with the cost of establishing a Federal Capital away back in the bush. I admit that, owing to the terms of the agreement, some consideration should be given to New South Wales, and I should be quite prepared for an amendment of the Constitution to provide that the Federal Parliament should sit in Sydney. Personally, I think it would be a good thing if the Parliament sat for three years in Sydney and Melbourne alternately ; but if New South Wales is, like Shylock, going to stand upon the bond, we, like Portia, should, while admitting her claim, insist that New South Wales should get no more than is in the bond. Let us agree that the Federal Capital shall be situated in New South Wales when it is selected, it being understood that the time of selection must still rest with us.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think the honorable member will find that rather inconvenient.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Is it not inconvenient for the rest of Australia to be plunged into the enormous cost which will be involved in establishing the Federal Capital ?

Mr Conroy - Has not the. whole of Australia settled that matter?

Mr McWILLIAMS - The whole of Australia has accepted the Constitution as it stands. The people of New South Wales must not be surprised if those States which are not prepared to be plunged into an entirely unnecessary expenditure object to the matter being rushed through this Parliament with undue haste.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then the honorable member must not be surprised at the result.

Mr McWILLIAMS - What is the result ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member must wait and see.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Personally, I am quite prepared to accept the result whatever it may be, rather than force financial difficulty, such as is threatened, upon the States. It has been argued that we must get away from Melbourne and Sydney, otherwise we shall never develop a truly Australian feeling on account of the influence which is exercised by the daily press ? If the Federal spirit in Australia is such an exceedingly sickly chicken that it is necessary for us to go into the wilds of Australia in order to provide it with a foster mother, it is a very weak chicken indeed. In the light of the history of the early days of Washington I think that the influence of a daily press upon a Federal Legislature is infinitely better than are the influences which would be brought to bear when we were far removed from that press. No worse position could be taken up than that we are not strong enough to argue our own case, and that, consequently, we must run away from the daily press. But do those who take that view imagine for one moment that by removing to Bombala, or to Timbuctoo, or wherever the capital may be located, they will escape from the influence of the press? What influence has the Washington press to-day upon the politics of America? It is the press of New York and the other capitals which really regulate the public life of that country. If honorable members believe that by getting away from Melbourne or Sydney they will diminish the influence of the daily press, as an old pressman I can tell them that they never made a greater mistake. There is another serious phase of this question upon which I desire to say a few words. One of the greatest misfortunes which afflicts Australia to-day is that far too large a proportion of our people is resident in our towns.

Mr Batchelor - That is a good reason for establishing the Federal Capital in the bush.

Mr McWILLIAMS - But if that capital is to prove anything like a success it must either attract population fromthe existing towns-

Mr Poynton - According to the honorable member's own argument, that would be a good thing.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I do not know that it would.

Mr Page - The bush is a good place to attract people to.

Mr McWILLIAMS - But how long will the site of the capital remain a bush? It must either attract population from the present capitals or it will convert those who ought to be. direct producers into indirect producers, of whom we already have far too many.

Mr Fisher - Does not the honorable member see that it will pay well?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I have never yet known of a Federal Capital which paid well.

Mr Frazer - Has the honorable member ever known of a Federal Capital which was owned by the people?

Mr McWILLIAMS - No ; but it seems to me very strange that, to paraphrase Pope, we never are, but are always to be blest. When we entered into Federation the glowing pictures that were drawn and the fairy tales that were told in my own State were marvellous. We were assured that a tariff which produced £8,000,000 would provide us with more revenue than we have to-day. We were also informed that as the result of Federation a saving of from £1,250,000 to £1,500,000 annually could be made upon the indebtedness of the States.

Mr Poynton - That is a pleasure which has yet to come.

Mr McWILLIAMS - So far I have not heard any scheme formulated which would bestow any benefit whatever upon the States through the federalization of their debts, beyond that which would be conferred if the spectacle of the States tumbling over each other to get upon the London money market could be abolished. That would be a substantial gain.

Mr Poynton - Did not the producers of Tasmania derive a benefit from Federation last year?

Mr McWILLIAMS - Undoubtedly Inter-State free-trade has conferred an enormous advantage upon them. Indeed, the whole of the benefits which they have derived from Federation can be described in the words "Inter-State free-trade," and I trust that this House will be exceedingly loth to deprive them of those benefits by means of any wretched Navigation Bill such as is proposed. There is another question to which I wish briefly to allude, namely, that of encouraging immigration. For some time I was puzzled to ascertain what this

Parliament could do in that direction. I have not yet learned that it can do anything beyond endeavouring to arrange for a Conference of States Ministers with a view to considering the subject. As has been pointed out so ably by the Prime Minister and successive speakers, it is absolutely impossible to enter upon any system which is designed to encourage immigration unless we have the key to the situation, namely, the land, in our possession. In Tasmania we are not suffering from lack of settlement to the same extent as is the mainland. We have plenty of land available, and I am very glad to say that in Tasmania to-day settlement is proceeding faster than it is in any other State of Australia. Although there has been a very deplorable decrease of population upon the West Coast, owing to the partial failures of the mines there, the population of the Island State is daily increasing. Seeing that it is proposed to attract immigrants from England, I desire to point out that they are not the class of menwho will go into the forest lands of Australia and carve out homes for themselves. At the present time, Tasmania is receiving a certain proportion of settlers from the mainland. These persons are establishing themselves on the North-West Coast, in the Derwent Valley, the Huon Valley, and in the Channel. But they are not the individuals who go out into the bush and establish homes for themselves. They belong to the class which I understand predominates whenever there is a ballot for land in New South Wales or Victoria. They are men who are possessed of sufficient capital to enable them to purchase a small home which is partially cleared, and are altogether an admirable class. When they come to Tasmania they do us incalculable good by buying out the pioneers who have cleared the land, so that the. latter can then go back into the bush and establish fresh homes. It would be quite useless, I hold, to institute any system of immigration with a view to getting settlers to take up our heavily-timbered country. They are not suited for the work. The best class of settler we have is the son of the settler - the man who is making a really good living off six or seven acres of Orchard. In such cases we have closer settlement in its best aspect. When the Navigation Bill comes before this House, I intend to ask it not to impose handicaps upon these men. I can assure honorable members that it is not at all an uncommon thing to find eight or ten such settlers living in comfort, and educating their large families, upon 100 acres. I intend to ask those who really desire to encourage the worker not to deprive him of the result of his energy or enterprise, and not to sacrifice him on the altar of the shipping rings of the mainland.

An Honorable Member. - Let us give him all the encouragement we can.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Yes ; and the only encouragement which he asks is to be left alone. I wish now torefer to the subject of preferential trade. I was exceedingly pleased to read the reference made to it in the Governor- General's Speech, and to hear such an out-and-out protectionist as is the honorable member who moved the adoption of the Address in Reply, state, in answer to an interjection, that he was prepared to give a real substantial preference to the mother country. I must candidly confess that I fail to' appreciate the position of those who claim to be thorough advocates of preferential trade,, but who say that we cannot do anything at present - that we must wait until the mother country comes along with a definite proposal. I believe in Mr. Chamberlain and in his policy. I thoroughly believe that if his policy is carried out, it will be for the good of the whole of the Empire, and especially for Australia. I would not wait until the electors of Great Britain had decided to give us something in return for our preference. I am so much a preferential tariffist, and so much in accord with what the Prime Minister has said as to the necessity of trading with those who are willing to trade with us, that I should be prepared to-morrow to immediately give a substantial preference to the old country without asking for anything in return.

Mr Conroy - That would increase the area of free-trade.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I care not whether it would do so, or even whether protectionists support the proposal as protectionists. In the case of the island State, we have practically but one market for the whole of our surplus products. England freely takes our minerals,our wool, and the whole of the fruit that we export, while there is not another market in the world that will take anything from us. I have precisely the same feeling for the mother country that I entertained before Federation towards New South Wales. Throughout the length and breadth of Tasmania to-day, the producers of the State entertain the kindliest feelings towards New South Wales. Why is this the case? The reason is that when Victoria was piling up tariffs against us, and shutting out everything that we could produce in Tasmania, New South Wales said - " Send your produce to us." I was prepared to give every preference to Sydney ; I was prepared, as a public man in Tasmania, to enter into reciprocity with New South Wales - to trade with her, and to give her what advantages we could in return for the advantages she had already given us. And now, so far as the old country is concerned, considering that she has taken the whole of the surplus products of Australia, that she throws open her markets to us, and defends our shipping, I am not prepared to haggle over terms. I would say to her - " You open your ports to us, and I am prepared to give you a preferential tariff without waiting for the result of the British elections, and without waiting to see what you will give us in return. In return for what you are doing for us now - for the markets you are opening to us - I am prepared to show my loyalty to the Empire by preferential trade with you." Is the Prime Minister inclined to proceed in that direction ?

Mr Johnson - To pull down the Tariff.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I would pull it. down for British goods, whilst at the same time I should not care how high it was made against the foreigner. I thank the House for the attention which has been given to my remarks. If I have spoken my mind in a clear, straight-out way, it is because I believe that it is always better for us to voice our opinions. When Ministers propose anything that I believe to be for the good of Australia, and for the good of the State which I represent, they will find no warmer supporter than I shall be. When they propose that which I believe to be inimical to the interests of Australia and to those of the State which I represent, they will have no stronger opponent than I shall be. I thoroughly agree with those who say that it is impossible to carry on a pure, intelligent, responsible government in the present state of parties in this Parliament. That is my humble opinion. I give expression to it as the result of some little consideration, and I think that any decision that will thrust upon Ministers the responsibility of governing, and upon every other party the direct responsibility for its actions, will be in the best interests of good government and the conduct of business in this House. I cannot understand a Government holding to its position when it ceases to govern. A Government when it ceases to govern should cease to exist.

Mr Page - Why do not the Government resign?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I do not say that they should, because, so far as I am able to judge, the Government are governing. I repeat the statement, that I do not think it possible for any party in this House that has now reached manhood's estate - such as the Labour Party, for example - to continue to shape the course of government without being prepared to accept the responsibility.

Mr Fisher - We will take all the responsibility if it is given to us.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Quite so. When the party is numerically weak, the position is different. The position was not altogether satisfactory last session, but I can quite understand that, when the Labour Party numbered only sixteen members, it was not a force of sufficient strength to be able to strike out for itself. There is now no other party in this House much stronger than it, and I believe that the time will shortly arrive when it will have to take up a position of complete responsibility for its actions.

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