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Thursday, 21 April 1904

Mr CROUCH (Corio) - This debate has brought about a number of extraordinary developments, but the most surprising has been that which has induced the honorable member for Maranoa to express his willingness to contest his constituency as a protectionist. I am pleased to see that one speech has sufficed to work such a sudden change for the better. As I intend to cast my vote against the Government in respect to the amendment now before us, I desire, as a Ministerial supporter, to offer some reasons for my action. I do not propose to discuss the constitutional question. The Prime Minister says that the proposal embodied in the amendment is absolutely unconstitutional .

Mr Deakin - I am certain of it.

Mr CROUCH - But other legal members of the House are just as strongly convinced that the proposal is constitutional, whilst the honorable and learned member for Indi declared that the matter was one for argument, and that the High

Court might decide it either way. I think the proper course to adopt is to allow that tribunal to determine it. Probably honorable members have heard of the Caliph Omar, who, when asked to refrain from destroying the valuable collection of books in the great library at Alexandria, replied - " If they agree with the Koran, they are not wanted ; if they do not, they ought to be destroyed." That practically represents the position in regard to this Bill. If the amendment be constitutional, no harm can result from its insertion in the measure. If, on the contrary, it is unconstitutional, let the High Court determine the matter. Personally, I desire that every worker, in whose occupation or profession a strike is probable, irrespective of whether he toils with his hands or his brains, shall be afforded an opportunity of coming under this Bill. It is not for us to pre-judge the decision of the High Court upon the legality qf the amendment proposed, and as the amendment will allow the highest tribunal in the land to decide the question, I consider it should pass. The next point to which I shall allude, has reference to the question of States rights. I am here as a representative of the Commonwealth, and not of a State. As such, I desire to retain all the powers which we possess, and to secure as many more as we can. It is the dutv of the States Parliaments to safeguard State rights. If a question arises as to what constitutes an invasion of State rights, the proper tribunal to decide it is the High Court, which has been expressly called into being for that purpose. At this stage, I desire to direct attention to' the genesis of this matter. I would point out that it was not the Prime Minister who first raised it, but the ex-Premier of Victoria, Mr. Irvine.

Mr Deakin - The honorable and learned member is quite wrong. The matter was discussed in Cabinet a long time prior to Mr. Irvine's declaration. Mr. Irvine did not know of it until it leaked out some weeks after.

Mr CROUCH - At any rate, the first public announcement was made by Mr. Irvine. He was a man who lived politically largely through the railway strike. The strike of the railway engine-drivers consolidated his position so much that he was able to appeal to the electors of Victoria as the great " iron " man who was able to restore responsible government in this State.

Mr Watson - He was returned with his majority long before that strike occurred.

Mr CROUCH - Nevertheless, his Government was called into existence chiefly as the result of the attitude which he assumed towards the public servants of this State, and towards its railway employes, upon all occasions. Any one who studies the position must recognise that a large amount of the support which he received was due to the antagonism which he expressed towards State employes, and to the opprobrium which his colleagues heaped upon the Victorian railway servants. It is just as well for honorable members to recollect that the author of this cry as to State rights is not the person whom we should follow, if we are to do justice to our public servants. Personally, I do not intend to vote for the amendment because it will prove acceptable either to the public servants of the States or to the railway employes. My duty is not to them, or to the State's, but to the people of the Commonwealth. I stand for the people in this matter. Every argument which the Prime Minister has advanced in favour of bringing other employes under the operation of this Bill is equally applicable to the public servants of the Commonwealth and of the States, and to the State railway employes. In this connexion I would ask honorable members to recall their experiences at the time the Public Service Bill was under consideration. I venture to say that nearly every honorable member was the recipient of hundreds of letters from public servants in reference to the various provisions of that measure. When we came to deal with the clauses of that Bill the public servants were always represented. We knew their opinions and their desires. The Commonwealth was represented only by the Minister who was in immediate charge of the measure, and consequently some amendments were inserted which surprised even honorable members themselves. We dealt with them largely in ignorance. Personally I think that a public servant is generally a well paid and well protected individual. In a few cases he is over-paid, and more than generously treated. I hold, however, that Parliament as a legislative body is quite incapable of dealing properly with our public servants. I should like to see our Public Service Acts entirely swept away, and a properly constituted tribunal established, which would place Commonwealth and State employes in exactly the same position that other employes occupy.

Mr Deakin - Does the honorable and learned member think they would accept that?

Mr CROUCH - They would have to accept it, if Parliament so decided, and we have the power to force it upon them. I know that some honorable members who intend to support the amendment have been accused of acting under pressure brought to bear by the public servants. Whether that be so or not, I cannot say, but cer- tainly such a remark is not applicable to me. During the recent election campaign I stated over and over again, that any such questions upon which constituents desired to ascertain my opinion must be put to me when I was upon the public platform. I am disposed to think that the adoption of this proposal will disadvantageous!)' affect the public servants of the States. But, as I have already said, we ought to regard it, not from the standpoint of the States or of the public servants themselves, but entirely from that of the people. I have recently been reading up a little American history relating chiefly to the States Rights Party, which was formed in the United States prior to the war of secession. As a result, I find that during this debate not a single argument has been used regarding the constitutional side of the question which was not advanced by the publicists in America in favour of continuing to the States the right to own slaves. I think we may take it for granted that those who now fight against State rights would have done so had they lived in those days. Before the opening of the first Federal Parliament I entertained the opinion that the issue on which parties in this House would be divided would be not the fiscal question, but that of State rights versus unification, and I am very much surprised to find the Prime Minister one of the first to introduce the question of State rights in this House, and to hear him acting as the champion of the rights of the States, rather than of those of the Commonwealth. He has treated the question at issue as one of importance, and undoubtedly it is. I should not have thought of deserting the honorable and learned gentleman's lead had not the issue been a vital one. I recognise, however, that we have now reached the parting of the ways - that we have reached the point at which those who are ready to give up certain constitutional rights that we possess must break away from those who are determined that the full powers of the Commonwealth shall be exercised. In my opinion, the arguments which we have heard on the question of State rights scarcely apply to the point in dispute. Unfortunately, we cannot go further in the direction of unification than is permitted by the Constitution; but it is my desire that we should exercise to the full extent permitted by the High Court the powers granted to us. Those who are not prepared to support this amendment, because of a belief that it is a step in the direction of unification, are, really seeking to protect rights which it is not their duty to safeguard. They have been returned to this Parliament to uphold the status of the Commonwealth, and not to give away our powers in order to magnify the States, and, to my mind, those who fail to recognise their duty in this respect will inflict an injury on the Commonwealth from which it will not recover for some years. So far the only States Premiers who have made any very definite pronouncement in regard to their opposition to this proposal are the present Premier of Victoria, Mr. Bent, and his predecessor in office, Mr. Irvine.

Mr Deakin - Several others have done so.

Mr CROUCH - I am told that the Premier of Queensland-

Mr Deakin - He has not protested.

Mr CROUCH - I understand that he has gone a step further; that he has said that he would be glad to find that the High Court is able to deal with this difficulty, and with the ever-recurring questions relating to the rights of public servants. If it is true that he has made that assertion honorable members will accept his attitude as an indication that the views of Mr.' Irvine and Mr. Bent, who have largely buttressed the position of their respective Governments by heaping opprobrium upon State servants, do not truly reflect the opinions of the leading politicians of the States in regard to this question.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr. Irvine and Mr. Bent have been the best friends the Labour Party ever had.

Mr Robinson - If this amendment is carried it will be the best friend that Mr. Bent has ever had.

Mr CROUCH - Then we are told that we should rely on the High Courts of the Parliaments of the States to deal fairly with their servants. I do not know whether many honorable members have read the Strike Suppression Bill which was introduced by the Irvine Government.

Mr Fowler - That is an historical document.

Mr CROUCH - That is so. If it were distributed among honorable members, it would furnish them with a remarkable illustration of the way in which a State Parliament - the dispassionate impartial Court of which we have heard - can deal with its public servants. In that Bill it was provided that any three men who dared to converse with a railway employé on strike should be liable to imprisonment, and that any one who held the funds of a railway association should also be liable to be imprisoned. It was an outrage upon public opinion and public freedom, and the fact that the Legislative Assembly of Victoria passed the second reading of the Bill proves conclusively that some outside judicial body should be appointed to deal in an impartial and independent manner with questions relating to public servants. It was a most obnoxious measure, and to have placed it on the statute-book would have been to violate all modern principles of freedom of thought and action.

Mr Fowler - The present leader of the Opposition in the Victorian Legislative Assembly asserts that the majority of those who supported the measure felt at the time that they were doing wrong.

Mr CROUCH - Quite so. There is one aspect of this question which I think the Prime Minister might even now consider. Whether I like it or not - and I do not like it - I have to admit that this is an age of State socialism. The Government have circulated a Bill providing for bounties for the encouragement of the iron industry, and under that Bill it will be open to the States at any time to take over the industry- If the Labour Party come into office, or in

Other ways secure increased power, State socialism will spread, and gradually a larger proportion of industries now conducted by private enterprise will be worked as national undertakings. It will thus_ be seen that, unless this amendment be carried, State industries may compete unfairly with private industries. It was because of this fear that the Employers' Federation of Canterbury. New Zealand, strongly advocated that all public organizations - according to the language employed in the clause now under discussion--and all railway associations should be brought under 'the State

Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. They felt that if they were called upon under the Act to bear certain disabilities, industries conducted by the State should be placed in the same position. In other words, they considered that State enterprise and private industry should be placed on an equal footing, so far as legislation of this kind was concerned. I have battled against the stream of State interference with what we have previously regarded as private individual effort, but 1 have to admit that it continues to flow, and if it be the tendency of the day to widen its course, it is surely our duty to see that private industry shall meet State enterprise on fair terms. I have been informed that the reason why the Newport Government Workshops were able to successfully compete against the Phoenix Foundry for the tenders for the construction of a number of railway engines was that the foundry paid higher wages. It is unfair that State industries now in existence, and such as this socialistic movement will create, should be able to compete against private industries, by reason of the fact that private employers are called upon to pay higher wages. That is a point which influences my attitude in regard to the amendment. I do not intend to detain the Committee at any great length, but to rhy mind the position is an extraordinary one. I do not like to vote against the Government.

Mr Reid - The honorable member, on this occasion, at all events, is not battling against the stream.

Mr CROUCH - I must say that I propose to vote in accordance with the pledges which I gave to my constituents. Instead of the Prime Minister having any complaint against me, I think that he ought to recognise that some of his supporters feel that it is their duty to vote against him on this occasion. Their position was confirmed at the election, and it was a position from which it was simply impossible for them to retire, having pledged their words as honest men.

Mr Deakin - When did I complain?

Mr CROUCH - The rule applies that he who excuses himself accuses himself. I am exceedingly sorry to vote against the Government. In this, only the second Parliament of the Commonwealth, honorable members should, in my opinion, have a free hand, apart altogether from party influences, to vote as they think proper for the. future welfare of the Commonwealth and States employes. The Ministry might fairly have " allowed, without threatening to resign, the collective wisdom of the House to override the decision of the Cabinet minority. Indeed, we might follow a course often adopted in the French Chamber. When a vote has gone against the Government, and it has been decided that the consolidated wisdom of Parliament is better than that of the minority as represented by the Government, a vote of confidence is passed on the Government.

Mr Reid - Ah ! that is a good idea.

Mr CROUCH - Having heard the hearty acceptance of that suggestion by the leader of the Opposition, I can almost regard it as a promise on his part to immediately make a proposal in that direction, and I shall not detain the Committee further.

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