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Tuesday, 31 May 1904

Mr McCAY (Corinella) - I should like to know whether the Government have accepted the amendment proposed by the honorable and learned member for Corio?

Mr Fisher - No.

Mr McCAY - Then I must confess that my dominant feeling is one of sympathy with the Government,- which is doing something alien to its professions and utterly contrary to the feelings which have been expressed by Ministers and their supporters in this House and elsewhere fur some time past. I am specially sympathetic - if it be not contrary to the Standing Orders, to be sympathetic with a Minister when sitting in opposition - with- the Minister of Trade and Customs, because I re- . member the strength and fervour with which he, as well as other members of his party, explained that no citizen of the Commonwealth was to be deprived of the benefits of this Bill. I am the more puzzled to understand the present attitude, of the Government, when I recall the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon that the intention of the Government, not to include all public servants within the scope of the Bill, was due to an opinion given by the Attorney-General that, probably, they would not all come within the express provisions of the Constitution. I am sorry that the Attorney-General is not present, because I should like to know whether he has expressed the opinion that the proposition that no public servant outside of the railway servants of the States can come within the provisions of the Constitution relating to conciliation and arbitration, is not open to argument.

Mr Deakin - The Attorney-General, thought that some of the post-office employes might be brought within the scope of 'the Bill.

Mr McCAY - Those employes would be servants of the Commonwealth. I am puzzled, for example, to know how to distinguish between a State railway servant and a State compositor, or employe in a Government Printing Office. On what grounds do the Government base their objection to give certain privileges to employes in the Government Printing Offices, whilst they are prepared to grant them to railway servants? It is true that Government Printing Offices are not spread so widely over the. land as are the railway services, but I should not dream that any consideration of that kind would influence the Government. If, however, the matter is not perfectly clear, I should like to know how the Government and their supporters justify their present attitude, in view of the opinion expressed by nearly all of them, that doubtful questions of law, on which honorable and learned members have given varying expressions of opinion, should be left to the decision of the official arbiter of the Constitution, namely, the High Court. I remember the honorable member for Hindmarsh stating that the only effect of the opinions which had been expressed by honorable and learned members had been to make the darkness more profound, and that he for one desired to leave the question to the High Court, which was the only tribunal able to give an authoritative decision. Surely the Government are not going to shelter themselves behind the fact that the Attorney-General has given an opinion which makes the matter doubtful, and to decide against the very people in whose interests they fought so vigorously and so nobly a few weeks ago. When the Attorney-General of the late Administration gave a strong opinion against the proposal to bring railway servants within the scope of the measure, they paid no heed to him. Is it because the opinion given is that of the Attorney-General of the present Administration that it should be obeyed^ without question? Are we to understand that an opinion given by an Attorney- General in another Administration is not 10 be treated with respect ; or are opinions to be followed only when they suit ? Such a course may be very convenient for the time being, but if that principle is to be invariably adopted, the Government may find themselves in a very unhappy position. I am surprised at the attitude assumed by the Government in this matter. I differ from them fundamentally on this question, because, in my opinion, .their proposal is contrary to the spirit and letter of the Constitution. I have no ground of complaint against them because they differ from me, but I am very much disappointed to find them acting contrary to the professions which they recently made. I am 'disappointed that the party who, above all others, have, I venture to think, adhered to their professions, their solidarity, and continuity of purpose, should, at the very first test, be found lacking in that courage which they have always insisted the dominant party should have - the courage to carry into practice the principles which they profess. Only this evening I voted with the Government; but that was because I had voted in the same way before. I did not do as the bulk of their supporters had to do, change my vote all of a sudden because of the change in conditions here. I voted against the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corio; but I should like to know why the Government voted against that amendment. Surely the Attorney-General has not given an opinion that it is unconstitutional to bring the servants of the Commonwealth under the operation of the Bill. T do not believe that the present AttorneyGeneral, or any conceivable AttorneyGeneral, in the House, or at present in his cradle, would give any such opinion as that none of the public servants of the Commonwealth could constitutionally be brought within the provisions of the Bill. Why did the Government vote against the amendment? That amendment was split into two parts, the public servants of the Commonwealth and the public servants of the States being dealt with in separate proposals. Why did the Government vote against the proposal to include the public servants of' the Commonwealth? Was it because the Government thought it expedient so to vote ? Was it because the Government believed that the Commonwealth Parliament is better able, or, at any rate, is as well able, to deal fairly with its servants as could be any Arbitration Court? That seems to me a reasonable explanation. I do not know, however, whether the Government will accept such an explanation; but if that be the case the Government is in the position of saying, " The Commonwealth Parliament is quite able to deal fairly with its own servants, but the States Parliaments are not able to so deal with their own servants." Is that the taunt which is flung at every State Government, namely, " We are the real Simon Pure, and can deal fairly with our employes, and, therefore, shall not bring them under the provisions of our own Bill " ?

Mr Hughes - That is not at all the attitude of the Government.

Mr McCAY - I should be very pleased to hear any member of the Government give an explanation which would be satisfactory to anybody, even to themselves. I confess that the action of the Government to-night does not increase my admiration for them.

Mr Hughes - The honorable and learned member's admiration for the Government was, originally, very great.

Mr McCAY - In many respects T have great admiration for the party of which the Minister of External Affairs is such a distinguished ornament. But when I find the members who are chosen to fill the responsible position of Ministers, running away from the trust they have voluntarily undertaken, that is not calculated to increase my admiration for them. One may admire the policy of the Government without admiring the exposition of the policy. I must confess that I am utterly at a loss to understand how the Government can vote against the inclusion of the public servants of the Commonwealth ; for the inclusion of any section of the public servants of the States, and against the inclusion of a section, in regard to whom, at any rate, there is some doubt as to the constitutional position, except on the ground that the Commonwealth Parliament does not require to delegate to another tribunal the power to deal with Commonwealth servants, while, in the interest, possibly, of the States as well as in the interests of the States servants, it is necessary to delegate to another tribunal, and to one not approved in any shape or form by the States, the power to deal with States servants. I shall, of course, vote against the second amendment just as I voted against the first, and as I shall vote against any further amendment proposed by the Government. I have heard or read nothing to alter the opinion I before expressed that this is an attempted exercise of power which is beyond that conferred by the Constitution. Without endeavouring to discuss the legal aspect of the question, I mav say that so far as one can judge, the trend of the decisions of the High Court, which is helping to develop the Constitution, are, at any rate, in the direction of confirming the view that I, as well as others, have taken of this particular question. I am puzzled to understand the action of the Government, though, of course, the Government are under no obligation to relieve my mind of its state of puzzledom

Mr Hughes - The honorable and learned member said that before.

Mr McCAY - I did not.

Mr Hughes - The honorable and learned member said something very like it.

Mr McCAY - I did not say that before, though I may have said something very like it. What I say now is as little like what I said before, as the action of the Government before they took office, is like their action at the present moment.

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