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Wednesday, 16 March 1904

Mr KNOX (Kooyong) - I must at once confess that all through I have refrained from speaking, and I am unwilling to speak even now, because it seemed, however paradoxical the position may appear, that the longer the debate continues the more members there are to speak. The discussion commenced with two conciliatory addresses by the leaders of the Government and the Opposition. They were followed by a speech of the leader of the Labour Party, which contained a psean of satisfaction with the results of the elections, with which that party, I think, are entitled to be gratified. That seems a recollection of a very long time ago; and now that we are in the third week of the session we find new debatable matter being brought forward, which seems likely to prolong the discussion still further. This afternoon we have had practically a grievance! day debate, various details of administration rather than general questions of policy having been discussed. I do not propose to follow the last speaker in the suggestions which he has made for dealing with that great question of the conversion of the debts of the States. I hope, however, that no one will listen to his dreamy proposal to take over £10,000,000 worth of bonds for the purpose he mentioned. I shall refer to one or two of his observations, because he. dealt with a subject upon which I wish to make a suggestion for the consideration of the Treasurer. I hope that the whole question will be dealt with by the House in the: manner which its magnitude and its seriousness demand. As the result of the elections, we find ourselves, as nearly every member has admitted, in an almost unworkable position. The only party which benefits by the situation, and will benefit by its continuance, is that which is so ably led by the honorable member for Bland. Last session, it will be admitted, many of the members of the Opposition afforded assistance to the Government when help was required. But that state of things cannot continue. The Government cannot expect to have the help of the Labour Party in regard to labour legislation, and then to depend upon the assistance of the moderate members of the Opposition in passing legislation which the Labour Party consider undesirable. It seems to me, and I am sure to many other honorable members, that the time has arrived when there should be some clear definition of parties in this House, and that the Government should be prepared with a policy upon which it is ready to stand or fall. The Prime Minister has declared that he will go right on and will countenance no underhand combination. . All of us who have had the privilege of knowing him in the past are perfectly sure that there will be no underhand work, and that whatever combination he enters into will be a straightforward and above-board affair. In pursuing his policy of going right on he has embodied in the Governor- General's Speech a very comprehensive bill of fare. The measures therein referred to divide themselves, in my . mind, into those which are practicable- and possible, and those which are purely experimental, unnecessary, and impracticable. I think no honorable member believes that the Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme will be carried into effect during the life of this Parliament, however much he would like to see it come about. The Government, indeed, indicate that they regard the giving of old-age pensions by the Commonwealth as consequential upon the readjustment of the public debt of the States. Their action in referring to the matter in the GovernorGeneral's Speech has been criticised as tending to mislead the infirm and destitute. I do not think that that was the intention, but in- any case the introduction of a measure to provide for Commonwealth old-age pensions is not practicable during the life-time of this Parliament. Then, with regard to the preferential trade proposals, even those who in' Great Britain advocate preferential trade, and believe, as I do, that something should be done to consolidate the Empire,- and to secure its trade to its own people, admit that the time is not -yet ripe for definite action Therefore, it is only to delude Parliament to suggest in the Governor- General's Speech that we may be able to deal with it. It certainly cannot be dealt with this session. No doubt the Conciliation and -Arbitration Bill is of great importance to the members of .the Labour Party, but, in my opinion, the passing of that measure will not make the Commonwealth more prosperous. It is a theoretical and experimental piece of legislation, which, in my judgment, will not improve the industrial conditions of theStates. Then I believe the proposed Navigation Bill to be an unnecessary restriction upon the trade and commerce of this country, 'which ought- to be as free as possible. Instead of keeping merchant vessels away from our coast, we should try to encourage them to come here. I also regard the proposed appointment of the Inter-State Commission as impracticable. Surely we ought -to be at the end of this process of manufacturing (departments, involving the creation of so many new officers, and the payment of so many ad"ditional salaries to burden the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. We have not' yet seen the Bill, but I earnestly hope that the High Court, which has not yet been overburdened with . work, will' be intrusted with the duties attaching to the Inter state Commission!. Wath the special knowledge which the Justices of that Court possess, they should make an admirable body for dealing with disputes between States. There ' are two other subjects of which I feel that I must speak with bated breath. One of these is the proposal to construct a railway to connect Western Australia with the eastern States. Upon that matter I am sorry to say that I cannot agree with my right honorable friend the Minister for Home Affairs. It is true that Federation will ' never be completely and satisfactorily consummated until railway communication is established between Western Australia' and the eastern part of the continent; but I hold that there are many desirable enterprises upon which the Commonwealth should embark before that work is taken, in hand. ' I can perfectly appreciate the desire of the Minister and of the people of Western Australia to see the railway constructed ; but I do not think that they have any sound ground for the belief that it can be carried out for some time to come, even though it may have formed the subject of a' compact entered into prior to Federation. There seems to be a strong disposition on the part of some honorable members to give effect to every provision of the Constitution, irrespective of the financial position or the natural development of the Commonwealth. According to these honorable members, we are bound to give immediate effect to every line of the Constitution, without regard to the necessities of the Commonwealth as a whole. So far as the transcontinental railway is concerned, it seems to me that it would be far preferable to devote attention to the completion of the railway in Queensland that is intended to reach as far as Point Parker. The line would extend from Longreach to Winton and Cloncurry, thence on to Point Parker, and would pass through a magnificent -stretch of country, which would be capable, of supporting an enormous population, which is full of minerals, and com? prises splendid .agricultural and pastoral" blocks. It was this country which largely assisted the pastoralists of Queensland to overcome their difficulties during the great drought. ;

Mr Watson - The line would be constructed wholly within Queensland territory.

Mr KNOX - Yes.

Mr Watson - Then that would not affect the Federation.

Mr KNOX - The railway would. affect the whole Commonwealth, and would tend to bring us into closer communication with Other parts of the world ; therefore I think that it should receive the most careful consideration at our hands. Another subject to which I refer with bated breath is the proposal to establish the Federal Capital. I do not think that this work need be undertaken by the Commonwealth for a long time to come. Undoubtedly, it is provided for in the Constitution; but we have to consider whether it would be expedient to incur the expenditure that would be involved in the establishment of the Federal Capital until the Commonwealth recovers from that long period of depression through which it has just passed. The Governor-General's Speech mentions a number of matters which, unlike those to which I have referred, are of an eminently practical character, and worthy of serious consideration. One of these is the question of the transfer of the States debts, and the method to be adopted in paying the States for the properties transferred to the Commonwealth. It must also be admitted by honorable members that it is desirable that steps should be taken to increase our population, which has been reduced to a state of stagnation owing to the absence of immigration and the lamentable falling off in the birth rate, am glad to see also that it is proposed to grant assistance to farmers and other producers, because I regard that as a step in the right direction, and as one which will benefit the whole community. I think that the mining industry, which has done so much for tha Commonwealth, might also receive a little kindly consideration. Irrigation also is one of those practical matters to which the Parliament might very. well direct its attention. The proposal for the encouragement of the iron and steel industry is a good one. We shall never take our proper position as a great nation until we have iron and steel works established our midst under proper control. It is true that the consumption of iron and steel in the Commonwealth is limited, as compared with that in other countries. It is also well known that pig-iron is brought here in great part, in the form of ballast, and that therefore the freight' charges are very small. At the same time we should have in our midst iron and steel works capable of turning out rails, and other articles of that description. Reverting to the subject of the States debts,' I have already discussed the question with' the Treasurer, who is familiar with the suggestion which I shall now venture to submit to the House. The memorandum which, the right honorable gentleman submitted to the recent Conference of States Treasurers showed a just appreciation of the many difficulties which surround the subject. As was pointed out in that document, and as is well known to honorable members, only the debts contracted prior to Federation can be taken over by the Commonwealth. It would be necessary to amend the Constitu-tion, if it were desired that the Commonwealth should take over liabilities incurred^ by the States since the establishment of Federation. The public debts of the States amount to .£228,000,000. Honorable members will recognise that this is a task of enormous magnitude, and one which demands very careful considerationIt is impossible to deal satisfactorily and finally with the question simply by the wave of a magician's wand. I ' entirely agree with the remarks of the honorable and learned member for Corio, that it will be a very long time before the Commonwealth will be able to borrow in London at a lower rate of interest than the States can do so at the present moment. As he very properly pointed out, most of the surplus capital available in England is now being absorbed for various purposes. Not only is the Government borrowing largely for its own purposes, but various corporations are doing the same thing, and the South African States are also receiving financial assistance. It is. estimated that there are somewhere about £200,000,000 of surplus profits available ir* Great Britain each year for investment. It: is true that if that accumulation continues it should materially ease the congested state of the money market if confidence in the Commonwealth and in the States finances . can be restored. To me it seems perfectly clear that the States of the Union which have the lesser indebtedness will never consent to burden their people with a general per capita charge, in order to adjust their circumstances to those of the other States.

No satisfactory solution of this question will be arrived at until the whole of the States debts are taken over by some central authority - either by the Commonwealth, or some body which may be constituted a trustee. Such a body might well be composed of representatives of the States and of the Commonwealth, and be vested with power to handle all loans, and to deal with all future flotations. It might very appropriately be called " The Commonwealth of Australia Council of Finance." It should consist of two members of the Federal Government, and a representative from each of the States Governments. It should possess a permanent head in order to ensure a continuity of policy and efficient control. Of course this could not be brought about without first securing an amendment of the Constitution. As I have previously pointed out, some change in the Constitution must be made it the Commonwealth is to assume control of the debts which have been incurred by the States since the inauguration of Federation. If necessary the States, by means of enabling Acts, could take the necessary powers for creating such a body as that which. I now suggest. I am one of those who believe that the Braddon section in our Constitution will require to be continued for very many years. I am satisfied also that when the book-keeping section expires the States will insist upon its renewal. I repeat that, for years to come, none of. the States will be prepared to surrender their control of the. railways, or to submit to any interference by the. Commonwealth with their railway development. Such a. council as I have suggested would conduct all future flotations, and constitute a governing and informed body possessed of a continuous and definite policy. Of course, I am quite aware that the objection which will be urged against such a proposal is that it would result in the loss of direct parliamentary control. But I would point out that all the States of the Commonwealth would have direct representation, and that such representation would always be subject to review by the Federal and the States Legislatures. We all know the magnificent success which has followed the creation of a somewhat similar body in Egypt under the presidency of Lord Cromer.

Mr Deakin - But in Egypt, it has not to deal with different States.

Mr KNOX - I am perfectly aware that the conditions are not analagous. Nevertheless it affords us an example of a body which deals with large sums in a way that is in the best interest of all concerned. I urge my suggestion upon thegrounds of public economy and efficient control. I believe that it deserves the consideration of the Treasurer quite apart from the fact that it would prove a means of uniting the interests of the Commonwealth and of the States. As I have previously intimated, I think it is necessary for us to adopt some means to increase our population. It cannot be denied that even in Victoria there are vast areas of land which ought to be occupied by small tenants. That can be secured only by first laying down the lines of a scheme which is calculated to attract desirable immigrants to our shores. Honorable members who have recently been to London must be cognizant of the gigantic efforts that are being made in a similar direction by Canada. The Government of that country has opened extensive offices for the purpose in Whitehall, and these are daily crowded by persons who desire to take up land in- Canada. The Canadian Commissioner was good enough to supply me with a mass of information regarding the methods which are adopted by the Immigration Office. Needless to add, these are far. superior to those which are adopted, by our States offices. Many laws have been passed. by this Parliament that have tended to bringthe Commonwealth into disrepute. We are being subjected, to a great deal, of misrepresentation, and the people of. England have not a true conception of the true position of affairs. I hold the view that one of the most practical steps which the Government could take to counteract this evil would be to appoint a High Commissioner. That view may not be shared by some honorable members ; but such an appointment is really essential. We have no proper representation in London, and it is desirable that this fault should be remedied without delay, in order that the position taken up by the Commonwealth may be clearly understood. It would not be a difficult matter to send home a representative of the Commonwealth qualified to find markets for our produce; but it is necessary that the High Commissioner should also be a man who has held high office, who is able to speak with authority, and whose words will receive the consideration of the public. Everything, of course, will depend upon the selection made by the Government. The most eloquent, enthusiastic, and practical man, so far as the development of Australia is concerned, should be appointed to the position. I earnestly hope that the Government will not view the appointment as one which should be made without grave consideration, for to select any one who is not enthusiastic in his desire to promote the best interests of the Commonwealth would be simply to waste our money. A responsible duty lies in front of this officer, for at present the Commonwealth does not stand well in the eyes of the British public.

Mr McDonald - Why ?

Mr KNOX - No one should be better qualified to answer that question than is the honorable member. I repeat, without fear of contradiction, the statement that certain legislation which we have passed has brought the Commonwealth into disrepute.

Mr McDonald - A few of the wild-cat schemes floated in the London market are responsible for this state of affairs.

Mr KNOX - I consider that-

Mr Groom - Similar legislation has nol brought the United States of America into disrepute.

Mr KNOX - I do not hear to what the honorable and learned member is referring ; but I consider that the High Commissioner will have a responsible task before him in explaining some of our past actions. It is perfectly idle for honorable members to imagine that they can gainsay the facts. Let them peruse a few of the journals which exercise an important influence on investors in Great Britian, and they will .find that some of our legislation has brought the Commonwealth into disrepute. Had there been a High Commissioner in London, he would have been able to explain away much of the misrepresentation that has occurred. There has been much exaggeration abroad in reference to our actions, and we have not had any one in England able to speak with authority in regard to what our actual intentions are. If the Commonwealth is to succeed, we must follow the lines upon which the prosperity of older countries has been built; we must have regard for ordinary business conditions of life. It is necessary for us to attract capital for the development of the legitimate industries of the Commonwealth.

Mr Kennedy - We collared a good lump of what we attracted here some time ago, and that is what has caused the trouble.

Mr KNOX - I do not know what the honorable member is alluding to. But if we are to restore the confidence of the British public in the Commonwealth, we must have a representative in London to protect and push our interests.

Mr Page - Whom 'would the honorable member recommend?

Mr KNOX - The most eloquent member of this House would be the most fitting representative of the Commonwealth' in Great Britain. Every honorable member knows to whom I refer. In the earlier portion of my address, I referred to the existence of three co-ordinate parties in this House, and indicated that the present position was untenable. We all admit that the fiscal question is practically dead.

Mr Johnson - No.

Mr KNOX - I, for one, think that it is. Had that fact been recognised at the last election - had the fiscal issue been subordinated to a consideration of the general interests of the Commonwealth, I feel satisfied that we should have had a more definite division of parties than we have.

Mr Johnson - The fiscal issue was very much in evidence in New South Wales.

Mr KNOX - While it continues in evidence we are unable to come down to reasonable conditions. The Labour Party have shown us what can be done by organization, and by differentiating between what is important and unimportant, and in that respect deserve every commendation. It is a standing rebuke to the other parties in this House that, by means of united action, and by putting .forward a distinct programme, the Labour Party have been able to improve their position, whilst other parties who did not discriminate, as they did, between important and unimportant details of policy, have come back to the House reduced in numbers and divided in strength. In subordinating the fiscal issue to other considerations the Labour Party has set us a splendid example. They consider that their socialistic platform is of infinitely greater importance to those whom they represent than is the fiscal issue. They allow their members to vote independently of party consideration so far as that issue is concerned, but, with that exception, they are a united body. It is highly desirable that we should rehabilitate the Commonwealth in the eyes of the public, for I feel satisfied that if a vote were now taken throughout Australia, the decision of the people would be absolutely against Federation. The feeling against the Commonwealth is most intense. The Minister for Home Affairs: to-night once more threw down the gauge of battle, and indicated that a feeling of: unrest exists even in Western Australia-.. We know, also, that New South Wales is dissatisfied with her position, and surely it is manifest that this state of affairs is. due to the fact that the Commonwealth Parliament, instead of taking up that high position which it was expected to assume, has failed in many respects to have regard to practical and business-like lines of legislation, and has. therefore, disappointed every one. Another reason for this dissatisfaction is that the States, as States, with certain responsibilities which they must bear, are beginning to believe that the Federal Parliament is endeavouring to supplant their Legislatures - that legislation which cannot be passed in their Parliaments is to be imposed upon them by the action of the Federal Parliament.

Mr McDonald - Legislation relating, for instance, to conciliation and arbitration.

Mr KNOX - Some of the States do not approve of legislation of that class.

Mr Thomas - To what States does the honorable member refer?

Mr KNOX - There is Victoria, for example.

Mr Thomas - How does the honorable member reconcile that statement with the fact that at the Senate elections, an enormous vote was cast for Senator Trenwith and Senator Findley, who both support the principle ?

Mr KNOX - The vote cast for Senator Trenwith was a very pronounced one. He has always been a moderate man in Victorian politics, and the public regarded him as one who had been subjected to great persecution. The high position which he occupied on the poll is an indication that the people have a feeling of sympathy for one who has always been moderate, and has been guided in all that he has done by a regard for what he believes to be right.

Mr McDonald - Yet the honorable member would have put him out if he could.

Mr KNOX - I regret that the Labour Party have accepted the designation of socialists, bestowed upon them by an interjector. I do not know how many of the members of the party subscribe to the doctrines of Owen, Marx, and other socialists; but if they all do, .it is likely to be a very serious thing for the Commonwealth. Of course, no man can stand up in this Chamber and declare himself opposed to all forms of socialism,- without contradicting past speeches and votes, either here or in a State Legislature. It is the destructive, revolutionary element in socialism that must foe resisted.

Mr O'malley - Does not socialism mean the destruction of competition?

Mr KNOX - When competition is destroyed, all incentive to improvement and ambition is taken away.

Mr Tudor - The Commonwealth tobacco monopoly aims at the destruction of competition.

Mr KNOX - It will be a bad thing for the community when we are all upon a dead level of equality. We hear of Christian socialism ; but, with all due reverence,! wish to say that our Redeemer, although consistently the friend of the poor and the suffering, showed by his example and teaching the ineffectiveness of laws for improving the whole mass of the community, and that it is only by stimulating the individual heart, and making better the individual life, that the condition of the people as a whole can be elevated. To reduce the whole community to one unambitious level is a state of things I regard as prejudicial.

Mr Watkins - That is not the aim of the Labour Party.

Mr KNOX - No demur was made by any member of the party to the statement by way of interjection that they are a body of socialists.

Mr Thomas - The members of the Labour Party are a socialistic body.

Mr KNOX - I did not believe that all the members of the party are socialists.

Mr Thomas - The King of England has said that we are all socialists nowadays.

Mr KNOX - The honorable member for Barrier is, I suppose, authorized, to speak for his party. When I refer to socialism, I mean the doctrines promulgated by men like Owen and Marx.

Mr Watkins - Those men are communists.

Mr KNOX - No ; communism goes even further. I would not suggest that there is a pure communist in this Chamber.

Mr Spence - The socialism of which the honorable member speaks is not the Labour Party's brand.

Mr KNOX - Then I should like to know what their brand is. We ought now to come to practical business, and I am endeavouring to do practical work in trying to get honorable members to define their positions.

Mr Watson - What is the honorable gentleman's position?

Mr KNOX - I shall go hand in hand with any party that desires to improve the position of the worker.

Mr Thomas - - That is socialism.

Mr KNOX - It is not destructive socialism. I shall support all legislation which has for its aim the securing to the worker of the interests and rewards which the industry in which he is engaged should give him. I have been consistent in my attitude on this question, in both private and public life, as I think an inquiry into the management of the concerns with which I have been identified will show.

Mr Page - The honorable member is a good type of the boodler.

Mr.KNOX. - I am sorry that my honorable friend has introduced here an expression used by the gutter press of Australia, though I know that it slipped out of his mouth. Expressions like that require explanation, so that we may know what they properly mean.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Socialism is another expression which requires definition.

Mr KNOX - My honorable friend understands what socialism is, and what destructive and revolutionary socialism is.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I know of about ten varieties of socialism.

Mr KNOX - Socialism has engaged the attention of men like John Stuart Mill and others of the highest and best minds of the I world. There are three parties in this' Chamber - the Ministerial, the Opposition, and the Labour Party - which are practically equal in numbers. Honorable members must, therefore, see that some new line of demarcation is necessary. The fiscal issue can no longer divide us, because that is dead. To carry on the business of the country in a constitutional way, we require a new and definite line of demarcation between those who have come here to carry out a platform to which they have had to subscribe-

Mr Watson - To which we have voluntarily subscribed.

Mr KNOX - Honorable members of the Labour Party have come here with directions as to what they must do.

Mr Watson - We have pledged ourselves to a platform, and I suppose the honorable member has done the same.

Mr KNOX - I was returned as an independent member.

Mr Watson - With a platform.

Mr KNOX - With a definite platform.

Mr Watson - That is precisely our position.

Mr KNOX - No doubt our promises to our constituents are as binding upon us as the pledge which they have signed is binding upon the members of the Labour Party.

We, however, are free to vote for legislation in the interests of the community as a whole, as opposed to the interests of a section of the community.

Mr O'Malley - The members of the Labour Party represent 85 per cent. of the electors of Australia.

Mr KNOX - That statement is not correct, though no doubt the members of the Labour Party represent a. great bulk of the electors. They have been sent here, however, with definite directions as to the policy which they shall follow, and the line of demarcation I speak of should divide those who come here free to look to the interests of the whole community and those who are pledged to regard only a section of the community.

Mr Watson - Our objection to the honorable member is that he is here to look after the interests of a class.

Mr KNOX - I am here to vote for whatever I consider best in the interests of the whole community, without direction or dictation from any section of it. I am not a delegate, but a representative.

Mr Watson - The classes know that they can rely upon the honorable member.

Mr KNOX - I did not intend to speak more than a quarter of an hour, and I am greatly indebted to honorable gentlemen for the attention they have given to my somewhat lengthy remarks. I think that there should be a combination amongst honorable members for the purpose of carrying on the government of the country in a constitutional and business-like way, and that might be brought about by negotiations. I know nothing of any combination ; but I think it would be better to bring about a union, under present conditions, than to wait for chaos, and then to effect a coalition under stress of weather. I trust that a sufficient number of members will be found to adopt a national policy, and work for the good of the whole of the Commonwealth, under an Australian banner bearing the motto - " For all the people of the Commonwealth, and not for any section."

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