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Tuesday, 31 May 1904

Mr ROBINSON - Quite recently. The honorable member seems to pay very little attention to the facts of daily life. The inconsistency of his party has been well exposed by the honorable and learned member for Corio, who pointed out that one member of the present Government - I think the Minister of External Affairs - stated that the Labour Party were determined to wreck any Government which would not bring under the Bill all public servants. Now that they have an opportunity to do that themselves, they shrink from carrying out their promises, and they have not the courage to move the insertion of a provision bringing all public servants under the Bill. They have deliberately abandoned a large section of the public servants, and shelter themselves under what is, to my mind, a contemptible subterfuge. When the amendment of the honorable member for Wide Bay was being discussed, the members of the Labour Party wished to bring all public servants within the scope of the Bill, and to leave it to the High Court to test the constitutionality of the provision. Now they say that all public servants cannot be included, because it may be argued that the ordinary public servant is not engaged in an industry. It seems to me that the Government industries which have been referred to - the administration of the Railways and of the Post Office - are not industries in any other sense than that in which the administration of the Treasury is an industry. They have from the beginning been part of the ordinary functions of an Australian Government. The Ministry are running away from the position which they took before the people at the last election, and are abandoning a large section of the Public Service without offering an adequate reason for their action in doing so. Their own excuse is that one member of the Cabinet advises them that it might be going too far to attempt to apply the Bill to all public, servants. Therefore, they are not prepared to stand by the position which, before taking office, they said they would stand by. Moreover, they boasted that they would bring everybody in Australia under the Bill. The late Government proposed to exempt from the operation of the Bill a very numerous class of workers, and the present Administration apparently do not intend to repair that omission. I refer to domestic servants. I suppose there are as many thousands of persons working as domestic servants as are employed in any industry in Australia, and yet the Government do not propose to bring them within the .scope of the Bill. Therefore, it appears to me that all the talk of the Government and their supporters about adherence to principle is mere affectation. They are prepared to throw over their principles as quickly as, in fact, a good deal more quickly, than any one else. If they are allowed to remain in office much longer, they will probably yield up their principles as readily as the draper sacrifices his winter goods on a hot summer day.

Mr Hughes - What are the honorable and learned member's principles?

Mr ROBINSON - I announced them in my speech on the Address-in-Reply. They are very much like what the honorable and learned gentleman's principles used to be. I believe that this attempted exercise of power is unconstitutional. There are two senses in which the word " unconstitutional " may be used, namely, in the Federal sense of something ultra vires of the Constitution, and in the strictly British sense of the arbitrary exercise of discretionary power. I contend that if we have the power to bring public servants within the scope of the Bill, it would be unconstitutional on our part to use it, because it is a discretionary power, and to give effect to it at present would be arbitrary and, therefore, unconstitutional. It would also be unconstitutional, in the wider Federal sense, because I think that we do not possess the power, and, therefore, should not attempt to use it. For these reasons I am determined to oppose the measure. I adhere to the position which I took up on a former occasion, when I said that no objection to any Government would force me to vote for any proposal that would strike a blow at the Constitution. I hope that a sufficient number of honorable members will be found to reverse their former vote, to give us a majority against the Government proposal, and enable us to show that we are determined to stand by State rights, and not, at this early stage of our existence, to imperil Federation, by entering upon a struggle with the States Governments.

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