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Tuesday, 31 May 1904

Mr Deakin - Yes.

Mr ROBINSON -i desire to make plain the statement that I was making when the division took place. It seems to me in the highest degree desirable that we should bring about as good a feeling as possible between the Federal Government and the Governments of the States. We know from the experience of other federations that their initial stages have been marked by a certain amount of clashing between the Federal and States Governments. If we are to learn anything from experience, what has occurred in those countries should make us sensible of the advisability of going slowly in matters of this description. Yet the Commonwealth is not more than three or four years old, when it is proposed to plunge us into a war - a paper war, doubtless, but still in fact a war - between the Federal and States Governments. -It is here proposed to take out of the hands of the States Governments the sole control of their finances, which has been guaranteed to them by the Imperial Parliament, and which they now have, and to hand it over to a tribunal created by the Federal Parliament. I am quite sure that there is no State Government in Australia that will submit to that without a very strong effort to prevent it. Honorable members are, no doubt, aware that a united protest on the subject was made only, a few months ago by the States Premiers, some of whom are men of pronounced radical leanings. An interjection which I made during the last debate on the question, to the effect that insistence on this amendment would provide a certain Victorian political leader with a very strong weapon, has been proved to have been absolutely correct, and to-morrow will show that honorable members who have insisted upon this provision being inserted in the Bill have, so far as Victoria is concerned, made a very bad error of judgment. I do not think the most sanguine of them pretends to imagine that the Labour Party will be able to return one-fourth of the members of the State Parliament.

Mr Tudor - We know that we shall return many more than we have had up to the present.

Mr ROBINSON - There will be sixtyeight members, and if the honorable member means to say that twenty-two members of the Labour Party will be returned, I think that I shall to-morrow evening be in the happy position of being able to show him by indisputable figures that he is seriously in error.

Mr Tudor - Does the honorable and learned member believe that twenty-two is a fourth of sixty-eight?

Mr Hughes - I think this is a violation of State rights.

Mr ROBINSON - I am glad to see that the Minister of External Affairs is an advocate for State rights. Once that honorable and learned gentleman takes up that position there is some hope for the party with which he is associated. If he sees the error of his ways, even at this late hour, there is some chance that the . party may yet be converted to reasonable views upon this question. This proposal has been submitted, as we know, not because it has any special virtue as regards the public servants of the States, but simply in order to gain a technical advantage over the dominant party in the State politics of Victoria.

Mr Watson - It is as big a question in the other States as in Victoria.

Mr ROBINSON - It is intended as a weapon of revenge to defeat a policy which I feel sure will be indorsed by the electors of Victoria.

Mr McDonald - Victoria is not the Commonwealth.

Mr ROBINSON - It is a most unheard of proposal that this Federal Parliament should constitute itself a Court of Appeal against the electors of Victoria upon matters of purely internal concern. That is not a good omen.

Mr McDonald - If the State authorities go on in the way in which they are now going, in two or three years time there will be nobodv left in Victoria.

Mr ROBINSON - If we are to have the honorable member for Kennedy always here we shall always have some one with us whom we do not want. The practice of constituting the Federal Parliament a tribunal for the consideration of matters of internal concern, relating solely to the States, is a practice liable to great abuse, and it will not remedy many of the evils which it is proposed to remedy. We have already heard that the Premier of Victoria has said that if this proposal is carried he will take such steps as will render it nugatory. There is not the slightest question that whether this proposal to bring the public servants' of the States under the operation of the Commonwealth Conciliation and-

Arbitration Bill be carried or -not, it will be in the power of the Victorian State Government, or any other State Government, by altering the Public Service Act of the State, to make the position of State public servants a very great deal worse than it is now.

Mr Hughes - Is this a threat?

Mr ROBINSON - Nobody can deny that, and were I in the position of the gentleman who administers the State affairs of Victoria I should assume exactly the same attitude.

Mr Hughes - Is the honorable and learned member in order in delivering what practically amounts to an election address in connexion with State politics, and, at the same time holding out a threat to the Commonwealth Parliament that, no matter what it does, the State Parliament of Victoria will take care to render its action null and void ; and, further, will make the condition of the State servants of Victoria very much worse than it is at present, if the Commonwealth Parliament does a certain thing? That can only be regarded as a threat, and I certainly take exception to it.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When the honorable and learned gentleman raises a point of order, he should state the facts correctly. I never heard the honorable and learned member for Wannon state that the Victorian Parliament would take any such steps.

Mr Hughes - He said it was contemplated.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable and learned member for Wannon did not say that he would be prepared to take such steps, 'but he intimated what might take place in any State. That is the whole question at issue here, and I, therefore, think the honorable and learned member's remarks must be considered pertinent to the question.

The CHAIRMAN - I did not detect the honorable and learned member for Wannon wandering beyond the limits allowed by tha Standing Orders.

Mr ROBINSON - It is a pity that those who, outside of Parliament, and, when in opposition in Parliament, are stern advocates of free speech, change their methods so soon as they obtain power. I should have thought that the Minister of External Affairs would have been as ardent an advocate of free speech as is any honorable member, had I not found that a few short weeks of office had made him as autocratic as the present Premier of Victoria. Insistence upon provisions such as the Ministry are attempting to embody in the Bill is likely to make the position of States servants worse than it is at the present time. This continual interference by Federal members in States affairs is most ill-advised, and likely to work h'arm on those in whose interests it is sought. I was never an advocate of State interference in Federal affairs, and while a ^ member of the Parliament of Victoria I endeavoured to restrict myself solely to State matters. Neither am I an advocate of Federal interference in States affairs. I think that members of this Parliament should restrict themselves to Federal affairs, instead of endeavouring to take the management of States affairs out of the hands of those to whom they are properly intrusted. It is lamentable that there should be such attempts at interference with the States authorities by Federal members, and especially by the members of the Labour Party in this Parliament. For the past six weeks the members of the Federal Labour Party have been interfering in the Victorian electoral campaign to an unprecedented extent. They have been denouncing the present Government of Victoria in language almost as strong as that which they have used in regard to my honorable friends the members for Bourke, Corio, and Melbourne Ports.

Mr Tudor - Quite right, too.

Mr ROBINSON - It is an extraordinary thing that these honorable gentlemen, who have been elected to do Federal work, should neglect that work, and spend all their time denouncing the Victorian Government. Such interference is a counterpart of the deliberate interference with the functions of the States now proposed. The members of this Parliament should bend all their energies and efforts to the forwarding of Federal affairs, and should not interfere in States politics, or in the management of the Departments of the States. There is plenty of Federal work to be done, and if we wish to do it well, we shall confine ourselves to our own affairs, instead of wandering into realms where we have no concern. Many of the Labour Party are absent to-night, howling on various platforms in denunciation of the present Victorian Government. The result of such action can only be to stir up feeling against Federation and against this Parliament, and will not improve the position of the servants of Victoria or any other State

Mr Tudor - Will it improve the position of the Victorian Labour Party?

Mr ROBINSON - I do not think it will. _ They will be in the same hopeless minority in the next Parliament as they were in the last. I do not think that the most sanguine of their barrackers expect anything else. If the amendment is carried, it will be within the power of the Governments of the States to take such action as will nullify the decision of any' Commonwealth tribunal which may be created under this measure. At the present time the Victorian public servants have security of tenure and other rights, but if the State Government found the administration of its Departments hampered or interfered with by the action of the Federal Government, it would be the simplest thing in the world by a mere stroke of the pen to take away from its public servants privileges which they have enjoyed for years past, and to put them on the same footing as ordinary individuals who do not know from week to week how long they will keep their billets.

Mr Fowler - The honorable member says that the Government of Victoria would retaliate on its servants for an. act of the Federal Parliament?

Mr ROBINSON - If the Federal Government interferes in a matter of States concern, it is in the power of the States Governments to protect themselves. Were I a member of such a Government, I should endeavour to take action to protect myself from interference. I should not permit a third party to interfere. If an outside body tried to dictate to me as to rates of remuneration or other matters connected with the administration of the public Departments, I should think it high time to take effective action to check-mate such a proceeding. The adoption of the provision under discussion is likely to be more harmful than beneficial to the servants of the States. In one State a large body of public servants has protested against being brought under the Bill.

Mr Thomas - In which State?

Mr ROBINSON - In New South

Mr. Tudor.-When?

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