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Wednesday, 20 April 1904

Mr CARPENTER (Fremantle) - Having listened to the carefully reasoned speech of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, and to those of other legal members of the Committee, I am reminded of advice which was given to me many years ago, and ran something like this: " If you can avoid it, never ask for legal advice; but if you are compelled to get it, never follow it, so long as you can avoid doing so." The confusion and clashing of legal opinion has been a feature of this debate recognised by every lay member of the Committee. If the legal members of the Committee had been unanimous in the opinion that the amendment is unconstitutional, I think that that would have had weight with all of us. But there has been an almost equal division of legal opinion. Able lawyers have spoken on each side, and the only result has been to make confusion worse confounded, and to compel the lay mind to fall back upon itself for a deter mination as to whether the amendment would do violation to the Constitution. I should be very foolish if I were to attempt to follow the legal arguments which have been so ably placed before us. I can hardly agree with those honorable and learned members who have sought to attach such great weight 'to American precedents and conditions. For three years I was a colleague in the South Australian Parliament of the honorable member for Darwin, and during that happy period I learnt a good deal with regard to American ways and institutions. May I whisper that what I heard did not persuade me that we should do well to follow even so great a nation as America in our legislation. Further than that, the political tendencies in that country are widely different from our own, and as soon as honorable members begin to quote American authorities I am on my guard. The United States Constitution has been quoted again and again, not as an instrument by which the people can express their will and secure the adoption of the laws they require, but as a means of preventing them from doing so. Contributors to the magazines are constantly pointing out that the United States Constitution, instead of being an aid to ^democracy, and affording means by which the people of that great nation can carry out their wishes, is a check upon them, and prevents them from doing what 'they would have accomplished long ago if they had been unfettered. The political tendency in Australia to-day is altogether different from that in America. In the United States private enterprise has almost run mad, and we see the result of its unchecked development in rings, combines, and trusts. Here, I think, fortunately, we are proceeding in the opposite direction, because our inclinations are towards State control of monopolies. I hope that this tendency will continue, and for that reason I am all the more anxious that we should exercise to the full every power which the Constitution confers upon us, even to the extent of providing for the reference to the Arbitration Court of disputes in industries which are under the control of the various States. I think it would be a calamity if it were established here and now that the Federal Arbitration Court could not exercise jurisdiction over the many thousands of States public servants. If that position were established, I should do my utmost to assist in securing an alteration of the Constitution. We are told that, even if we had the power, it would not be expedient to bring States servants within the scope of this measure. I have been taught, however, that it is always expedient to do what is right, and no honorable member has attempted to show that we should do- any wrong in bringing public servants within the scope of the Bill. The arguments against the expediency of adopting the amendment seem to me to rest upon a very slight foundation.

Mr Johnson - Justice is the highest expediency.

Mr CARPENTER --!, agree with the honorable member on that point, although I do not think that he agrees with me in regard to the principle of the amendment. During the agitation in favour of the Commonwealth Bill it was frequently represented to the people that the Commonwealth would confer upon them a dual citizenship, that they would no longer be merely citizens of one State or another, but citizens of the whole of Australia, with rights and privileges which the Federation alone could confer upon them. That argument strongly appealed to me, but immediately a law is proposed which is intended to give practical effect to the promises then made, and to confer upon the citizens of Australia tangible benefits beyond the grant of any other authority, we are' told that it would violate the Constitution. I am as anxious as any one to preserve to the States every constitutional right which the instrument of Federation conserves to "them. I differ from some of my honorable colleagues in the Labour Party who believe that unification would give us an improved form of government for Australia. I have always held that for many years to come Australia would be better governed, and her resources would be better developed, by leaving it to the States Governments to exercise a large measure of power. At the same time, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that the present tendency is towards unification. The very genius of the Constitution makes for unification. We have examples of this almost every day, and, in this connexion, I might mention the recent Conference of States Treasurers. What would honorable members have said if the Federal Treasurer had, of his own initiative, and without reference to any other proposal, calmly suggested that the States should not indulge in anyfurther borrowing without first submitting their proposals to the Federal Government. Such an idea would have been scouted. Yet, when the States Treasurers proposed to avail 2 q themselves of the benefits that would be derived from the federalization of the States debts, the Treasurer's suggestion that an agreement on the part of the States to surrender their individual borrowing powers, and make them subject to Federal revision, would be a condition precedent to the adoption of such a scheme, was received with equanimity, and even some degree of favour. I am rather inclined to believe that, in order to derive the benefits which would accrue from the federalization of their debts, the States will agree to the condition laid down by the Treasurer. This shows how the Federation tends to overshadow the States almost in spite of themselves. The democracy of Australia has learned that the Federal Parliament is the Parliament of the people in a way that the States Parliaments are not. I am not at all surprised to hear an honorable member laugh at that remark. Those gentlemen who advocated very loudly the establishment of Federation were not at all slow to make the statement that a Federal Parliament would give to the people of Australia legislation of a character altogether different from that which they were getting from the States Parliaments. It was said by the conservatives of the State in which I then lived that there would not be much prospect of labour legislation from the Federal Parliament - that they were going to have .a superior class of member within these walls. But to their utter astonishment the people of Australia have taken possession of their own Parliament, and we find that the thoughtful men and women of Australia have already begun to realize that they can get their wishes carried into law here much more quickly than they can in the States Parliaments. Here we have political equality ; there we have restrictions owing to property qualifications, and so forth, which prevent the people passing their wishes into law. All this makes for the aggrandizement of this Parliament. The people are going to make use of that which gives them what they want, rather than tie themselves to their States Parliaments, which too often place obstacles in the way of the expression of their will. The right honorable member for Swan, who gave us such a breezy speech this afternoon, reminded us of the difference between the Constitution we have to-day and the Constitution which was proposed in 1891. One of the differences to which he referred was that under the proposal of 1891 the States

Parliaments would have elected the members of the Federal Parliament; and I could not help thinking that the delay of a few years brought a wonderful change in the opinions of those gentlemen who were charged with the duty of framing a Federal Constitution. There was not much danger of the people of Australia accepting the Constitution of 1891. They realized how dangerous it would be ; but they at once accepted a proposal which gave them the power they had the right to exercise. The point I wish to make is that the few years which elapsed between 1891 and 1897 brought about this wonderful change in the politicians of Australia. As we are rapidly changing in our political ideas, I do not want to have an interpretation of the Constitution which would tie us down and prevent us from expressing our will. I recognise that there are certain limitations which must be observed, but I am not going to yield to any legal opinion. I would rather run the risk of a rebuff from our High Court - of being told we have exceeded our powers - than 1 would hesitate timidly to do something about which I had a doubt. Let us exercise to the full all the powers which the Constitution gives us.

Sir John Forrest - Not at once, surely ?

Mr CARPENTER - Not at once ; but as occasion arises.

Sir John Forrest - The occasion does not arise now.

Mr CARPENTER - The interjection of the right honorable gentleman brings me to the consideration of one or two points which were raised by him this afternoon in his very excellent fighting speech. As I come from the same Stale as does the right honorable gentleman, I claim to represent some of the public opinion there, and I desire to make brief reference to some of his remarks. Let me say, first of all, that I re-echo every kindly word he spoke with reference to those who oppose the Government; I reciprocate every kindly sentiment he expressed in his very able speech. But while doing that, I canhardly agree with him when he seeks to speak as representing the State of Western Australia in his opposition to this amendment.

Sir John Forrest - I was then speaking of the public servants of Western Australia.

Mr CARPENTER - The right honorable gentleman had the advantage of being re-elected to this Parliament without a fight for his seat. Such a position is an advantage, though it is also a disadvantage. The disadvantage of having no contest is that a candidate, not being brought into close contact with his constituents, may perhaps get out of touch of them, and assume that their opinions of to-day are the same as they were three years ago, when he was first returned. I may be pardoned for saying that if the right honorable gentleman had had to fight an election, he would perhaps have been brought very much more closely into touch with public opinion in his own electorate. As to the opinion expressed on this question by Western Australia at the general election, may I remind the Minister for Home Affairs that in those districts where there were contests that opinion was very emphatic indeed.

Sir John Forrest - I do not think so; the question was ignored by the press, and generally.

Mr CARPENTER - The right honorable member appears to think that this question was ignored in Western Australia. In the debate on the Address in Reply, the Minister for Home Affairs stated that he had put it plainly to the electors of Western Australia that the inclusion of the public servants would be unconstitutional and an invasion of States rights. ,

Sir John Forrest - There was no one to fight for the inclusion of public servants.

Mr CARPENTER - I submit that if the right honorable member held that opinion as a vital principle, he certainly ought to have discussed it before the electors. It was a question discussed on every political platform, and inquiries regarding it were made at nearly every public meeting; and I do not know that there was any serious attempt made by the honorable gentleman to combat the arguments of those who advocated the inclusion of the States employes within the operation of an Arbitration Bill.

Sir John Forrest - It was said that the Bill would never apply to Western Australia, owing to the isolation of that State.

Mr CARPENTER - I am aware that the opinion was expressed that, so long as there was not an Inter-State railway, the Bill could not apply to Western Australia; but we are living in the hope that we shall have this railway at a very early date. I should like here, very briefly, to quote some figures in relation to the general election in

I Western Australia. For the candidates who supported the inclusion of the States employes under an Arbitration Bill, 13,507 votes were cast in the three contested electorates, while only 6,678 votes were given to the unsuccessful candidates. This shows a majority of nearly two to one in favour of the candidates who advocated the inclusion of the States servants.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable member knows very well that the inclusion of States servants, under the Bill, was not made a prominent question.

Mr CARPENTER - It was a fairly prominent question. I do not pretend to say that it was the only issue on which the electors voted, but I have a perfect right to say that it was one of the leading planks in our platform, and, being discussed at every meeting, was as much in the mind of the public as was any other question. As I have said, in the 'districts where there were contested elections, a majority of two to one was shown in favour of the inclusion of the States servants.

Sir John Forrest - The labour question was the more important.

Mr CARPENTER - This is the labour question. In the Swan electorate there was no contest for the House of Representatives, but there was a contest for the Senate.

Sir John Forrest - I do not think that the candidates for the Senate put this forward as a prominent question.

Mr CARPENTER - I think they did.

Mr Page - The Prime Minister made the question an important plank in bis platform at Ballarat.

Mr CARPENTER - I attended some joint meetings with 'candidates for the Senate in Western Australia, and they made this question quite as prominent as I did.

Sir John Forrest - It may have been made a prominent question in Fremantle, but not to any extent elsewhere.

Mr CARPENTER - For the three elected Labour senators for the Swan district 7,348 voles were cast.

Sir John Forrest - The honorable member knows very well that these senators were elected on the labour ticket.

Mr CARPENTER - For the three candidates nominated by the Minister for Home Affairs - Mr. Saunders, Mr. Cavanagh, and Mr. Moore-

Sir John Forrest - I only assisted two. Mr. Saunders was not my candidate, because he was a free-trader.

Mr CARPENTER - There was a third on what was known as the " Forrest ticket."

Sir John Forrest - No; on the freetrade ticket.

Mr CARPENTER - It was understood that thethree I have named were on the one ticket, and were being supported by the Minister for Home Affairs.

Sir John Forrest - The other man was opposed to us.

Mr CARPENTER - That makes the case all the worse for the Minister. I am giving him the benefit of a candidate who was not his own. For these three gentlemen who were opposed to the labour policy, 5,768 votes were cast as against 7,348 votes cast for the candidates who advocated this proposal. I merely quote these figures to show that in spite of the statement of the Minister to the contrary, Western Australia, by overwhelming majorities, favoured those candidates who had advocated at nearly every meeting the inclusion of State employes within the operation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill.

Sir John Forrest - It was never brought under their notice at all.

Mr CARPENTER - The right honorable gentleman also accused those who are supporting the amendment of trying to take power from the States. I have dealt with that aspect of the question, but allow me to repeat that we are not seeking to deprive the States of any power which they possess. I am surprised to find that the only proposal to take power from the States is that which is reported to have been made by the gentleman who is contesting the Riverina election as a Government supporter. Mr. Chanter is reported in the press this morning to have said that he would favour the appointment of a High Commissioner at once, and compel the States Governments to withdraw their Agents-General from London. I do not think that any labour man, or any member of the Opposition, has gone so far as to propose to interfere with the powers of the States to that extent. There is one other remark of the Minister for Home Affairs to which I must take exception, and that is that the Labour Party have not treated the Prime Minister fairly in this matter. The right honorable gentleman failed to justify his statement. I do not wish to rest under the accusation of having done anything unfair. With the rest of my colleagues, I hold the Prime Minister in the highest esteeem, and I think not only the members of the Labour Party here, but the followers of the Labour

Party outside, recognise that he has been a friend to labour, and has assisted to pass very many measures for their benefit since he has held that high office. But because we now differ, and differ sincerely - having as much right to our opinions as any Minister has to his opinions - why should we be accused of treating the Government unfairly? The Minister for Home Affairs said that we who have been his friends are going to become his executioners. I should be sorry indeed to have anything to do with the political execution of any friend to labour. I am rather inclined to think that, instead of there being an execution, the Government are committing suicide. All we are doing, if we are doing anything, is assisting at their burial. For some weeks the Minister for Home Affairs and his colleagues have seen what the result of a certain course of action would be. They calmly come to the edge of the precipice, and, seeing their danger, they determine to jump over, and turn round to say, " Our friends, have done this." We would have saved them from their fate if they had given us half an opportunity. It is because they have taken the bit in their teeth, and gone not so much against what we proposed as against the wish of the people of Australia expressed at the recent elections, that we feel compelled to rote against them on this occasion. I am convinced that no matter what the result of the division may be, the principles of democracy which I suppose are professed by a large majority of the members of this Committee will permeate all our legislation. There may be a change of men on the Treasury bench, but I am sure that there will be no change of principles in the legislation which may be proposed. Believing that no matter what may be done, it is best not to surrender a principle, but, as the Prime Minister has said, to go straight on, and believing that the ultimate result will be nothing but good for the democracy of Australia, I shall heartily support this amendment.

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