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Wednesday, 1 June 1904


Mr KNOX (Kooyong) - I rise with considerable reluctance, because I desire to see this question settled ; but some of the remarks of the honorable member for Hunter have shown me that a prolongation of the debate may be serviceable. If one thing has been made clearer than another, it is the conviction held by all who desire to look things straight in the face that the Government have, for some reason known only to themselves, changed their attitude in regard to the question at issue. The wording of the amendment of the honorable member for Wide Bay seems to me clear, incisive, and unmistakable, while that of the amendment now before us indicates, as previous speakers have remarked, that the Government are arrogating, not only the power to coerce the States, but also the power to interpret the Constitution. I have a very high esteem for the members of the Labour Party personally, and I believe that many of their efforts are directed, and tend, towards the improvement of the condition of the workers of Australia, by increasing their share in the profits of their labours. I shall be found supporting those efforts, and I have declared myself in favour of them, both in this Chamber and outside. But what is the present position? The Labour Party has hitherto displayed one commendable characteristic - that of consistency and devotion to principle. But it has been shown during the debate that they have departed from that characteristic in regard to other matters besides that now under discussion. They would have occupied a much stronger position in the minds of honorable members generally, and of the public, if they had maintained the position of absolute independence which they held in the past. It is true that they may now be influenced to some extent by the fact that certain of their members are holding office. I am of opinion that the high and honorable positions which Ministers fill were not sought by them, but forced upon them, and that they are justified in retaining them until the existence of a solid majority opposed to their programme- is demonstrated. I have already indicated my fundamental objections to the Bill, based upon the belief that it is too comprehensive and far-reaching for the interests involved. In my opinion, there are only three classes of employments in regard to which interference is at ail necessary - that of the waterside workers, the shearers, and the seamen. Surely it would have been better not to have caused the friction, turmoil, and waste of time which the introduction of this large measure has brought about, together with the further undesirability of lowering the public estimation of our capacity for legislation. The measure has indeed been tragic in its results. It brought about, in the first instance, at the end of last session, the death of the prospects of the Labour Party, and it only recently caused the death of the Deakin Administration. Before it is passed I hope still more tragic consequences will follow from it. with a correspondingly beneficial result to the community. I hold that it is undesirable that this Bill should "be forced upon the public. I feel, as I have frequently said, that the line of division between parties in this Chamber must show itself more clearly every day, and separate those who wish to respect the rights of the States from those who favour unification. No honorable member can have any doubt as to my individual position. I trust that a majority of honorable members will always be found ready to respect-the rights of the States. Quite apart from the constitutional aspect of the question at issue, I think that the trend of the legislation which has been introduced, and of the amendments of which notice has been given, will be to solidify the party which is composed of those who desire to maintain States rights, and to oppose them to those who are ready to ignore the rights of the States. I hope that day by day, and month by month, as each piece of legislation is brought before us, those who support the integrity of the States will become more and more clearly distinguishable from those who are in favour of unification. The Labour Party, as a whole, have clearly indicated that they favour unification, and they are endeavouring to use the Constitution to secure advantages which they have "been unable to obtain under the Constitutions of the States. One of my strong objections to the Bill is that it is an attempt to use the Federal Parliament as an instrument for the easier accomplishment of their ends. I base my objection to the inclusion of the railway employes on the ground that we have no right to interfere with the administration of the States in regard to a matter of such serious consequence. If the Bill, as it is proposed to amend it, became law, there would, undoubtedly, be great.and continuous friction and irritation in the relations of the Commonwealth and the States. In the first session of last Parliament, the present Attorney-General moved the following motion, which will Be found in Hansard -

That in the opinion of this House it is expedient for the Parliament of the Commonwealth to acquire, if the State Parliaments see fit to grant it, under section 51, sub-section xxxvii, of the Constitution Act, full power to make laws for Australia as to wages, hours, and conditions of labour.

The Prime Minister of that day, the present Mr. Justice Barton, was inclined to agree to that motion, but he suggested the substitution of the expression " accept " for the word "acquire," because he was anxious that there should be no friction between the Commonwealth and the States. He said -

This will make it clear to the States, that we are simply declaring our willingness to accept this power, if they grant it - not that we set about acquiring it in any sense that we wish to wrest the power away from them. It is absolutely necessary in our early dealings - and, in fact in all our dealings with the States of the Union - that, whatever treatment we may experience ourselves, we shall behave in the most conciliatory way to the States.

In agreeing to the amendment suggested by the then Prime Minister, the present AttorneyGeneral said -

I am quite sure that the Prime Minister knows' exactly how the matter stands, and that it needs tact and care and cautious approaches, but our efforts would be perfectly useless if we approached the State Legislatures with a whip in our hands.

The resolution was transmitted to the various States Governments, and the replies sent by the Premiers show that their feeling was opposed to any interference with the control exercised by the States over their own interests. The Tasmanian Premier said -

It is undesirable for the Parliament in this State to surrender its rights to make its own laws upon the important subjects named in the resolution.

Sir JohnSee wrote

In my judgment this is a question that should be left to each State to determine.

Mr. Jenkins,the Premier of South Australia, wrote -

That his Government did not consider it expedient to take action in the matter.

The Premier of Victoria appears to have merely acknowledged the receipt of the Prime Minister's communication. The late Mr. Leake, who was then Premier of Western Australia, said that -

While not favorable to the transfer from the Slates of powers to deal with industrial legislation, he would not oppose the transfer, if the other States agree.

If the Government had desired to approach this matter in a conciliatory spirit, they might have endeavoured to secure the concurrence of the States Governments, or, at at any rate, an expression of their views with regard to the proposal. I know that in many of the States the interference with States rights, which is contemplated by the amendment, will probably give rise to very serious friction. I do not wish to express any opinion upon the constitutional aspect of this question ; but, so far as I can, as a layman, judge of its merits, it appears to me that the law is clearly and distinctly against any interference on our part with the control exercised by the Stales Governments over their servants. It is not, however, upon that ground, but because it is desirable to preserve intact -the rights of the States, that I have decided to vote' against the amendment







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